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July 31, 2008

'Hero amongst the proud and few': Family, friends tell fallen Marine's story

CLEARLAKE – The knock that came at Denise Wilson's front door early on the morning of July 21 would change her life – and that of her family – forever.

Please click on above link for photos.

Written by Elizabeth Larson
Thursday, 31 July 2008

The 41-year-old mother of three opened the door – which is decorated with two yellow ribbons and framed by two small US flags – to find two US Marines acting as messengers.

The news they brought was the worst the mother of a Marine could expect – that her 22-year-old son, Ivan Wilson, had died earlier that day in Afghanistan, on his second tour of duty in the Middle East.

She said she wakes up often in a cold sweat now, as if anticipating that knock again and again.

But this time when she wakes, it's the voice of her 3-year-old son, Nathaniel that she hears, telling her, “Momma, everything is going to be OK.”

Denise Wilson's son Ivan was the first member of the US Armed Forces from Lake County to die in the current war in the Middle East.

This Sept. 12 would have marked the third anniversary of the day, back in 2005, when he got to the US Marines training center in San Diego and put his boots on the yellow outlines, sealing himself into the brotherhood of the Marine Corps.

His route to that day had included a brief stint at College of the Redwoods; living in a tent city in Seattle, where he'd veered off a planned trip to work on the fishing boats in Alaska; and other places he'd sought to make a place for himself but where his family said the fit just wasn't right.

“Life was hard for Ivan,” his mother said.

So he turned to the Marines, a place many young people have looked for opportunity.

A Marine recruiter, Sgt. Michael Archer, sent Denise Wilson an email July 27, recounting his first meeting with her son on a rainy morning in December 2004 in a Middletown deli.

“Ivan was one of the most respectful and delightful young men I ever had the pleasure of working with on my recruiting tour,” Archer wrote.

Denise Wilson, with 19-year-old daughter Jackie at her side, reads through the e-mails from Archer and many other young men who knew her son – known to them variously as “Willy” or “Juggernaut” – and whose lives he obviously touched.

They remembered him variously as a brave and respected Marine, someone whose sense of humor and friendship made their service easier, and a good young man whose life ended suddenly.

One young Marine, Corporal A.W. Tombleson, said that, had it not been for Ivan Wilson – who laid down M16 rounds as well as explosive rounds to cover him in an exposed position – he wouldn't have survived. Lance Corporal Matthew Perry called him “an outstanding friend,” still another Marine who only signed his name as “Quinn” called Ivan Wilson a “hero amongst the proud and few.”

“I just don't believe that he's gone,” she said of her son, who she called “Sonny Boy Ivan.”

“It's not fair,” she said. “This shouldn't happen ... It just hurts too much.”

The shaping of a young life

Ivan Wilson was born in Sonora on May 29, 1986, and he grew up in Clearlake, living with his family in an apartment on Old Highway 53.

His mother said he attended local schools, eventually wrestling and playing football at Lower Lake High, where both he and sister Jackie were in the SERVE Academy, an academic program with special focus areas including emergency response. He would graduate in 2004 from Clearlake Community School.

He briefly attended College of the Redwoods. “It just didn't work out for him so he came home,” Denise Wilson said.

Ivan Wilson wasn't afraid to try different things, and his mother never faltered in backing him up. “I supported him in everything he did.”

Joining the Marines was a path he took to get his life straightened out, a decision he made “when other things just weren't working out in his world,” his mother wrote in a prepared statement. It was a decision, she said, that he felt was one of the best choices he'd made in a very long time.

After joining the Marines Ivan Wilson the man began to take shape.

He spent January to August of 2007 in Iraq as part of the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment's Fox Company. During his time there some of his Marine friends were seriously injured in a bridge explosion, Denise Wilson said. Ivan Wilson himself was scraped up in a building explosion, but otherwise came away unhurt.

When he returned home on leave, he kept his thoughts on what he'd seen in that country mostly to himself, his mother said.

“Ivan didn't really talk about it much at all,” she said. “When he came back he was a different person.”

He started working on his issues with alcohol, which had gotten him into some trouble, including an arrest earlier this year. His mother said he was continuing to address his problems and was optimistic about the future.

Ivan Wilson also was eager to see the world – beyond his Middle Eastern tours. “He wanted to go all over the world,” his mother said, and was looking forward to traveling around Europe after his enlistment was up.

His mother said he talked about being a lawyer or an optometrist, and possibly reenlisting in the Navy in order to pursue a career as a pharmacy technician. Sister Jackie said he hadn't shared a lot of details about his future plans.

Following additional training, he was deployed in April to Afghanistan. Communications from, and about, that experience were even more guarded, Denise Wilson said.

She said her son promised that, when he came home, he would tell her more. “They couldn't tell us a lot,” she said, due to security reasons.

She did know he was training friendly Afghan forces during his time in Afghanistan. She would later discover, through e-mail messages from his friends, that he was increasingly taking on a leadership role, asking to “take point,” a term for the most exposed position in a military formation.

In his messages home he was upbeat. In the weeks before his death recounted that “we blew some stuff up” to celebrate July 4, and he was happy to have received some head phones and a video game.

Despite an explosion near his position the night before, on July 10 Wilson told his mother in an e-mail, “Life is good right now.”

He continued, “Last night was explosive quite literally. Everybody is all right though. To you the story would probably make you really concerned for our safety, though we were pumped. There will be plenty of stories to tell when I get home. Like I said before this deployment is crazy and I'm loving it. Send my love to the family.”

In the heart of the insurgency

Because he was so far from home, and his activities kept so secretive even from his family, it has taken time to piece together the events surrounding his death.

A letter to Denise Wilson from Lt. Col. Richard D. Hall, Ivan's battalion commander, tells part of the story.

The Marine was on patrol in the village of Naw Zad, Afghanistan, located to the north of Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern Helmand province, Hall's letter stated.

Ivan Wilson was fatally injured by an explosive, and was treated at the scene, Hall said. While being transported to the medical facility at Britain's Camp Bastion, Ivan Wilson's hopeful young life ended, despite the efforts of his fellow Marines, according to Marine Edwin “Doc” Daniel, who wrote Denise Wilson.

“He did not suffer,” Hall wrote Denise Wilson. “I tell you this because I thought you would want to know.”

The US Marine Corps told Lake County News that following his death, Ivan Wilson was promoted from private first class to lance corporal.

As a rifleman, Ivan Wilson was security for Lance Corporal Daniel Burmeister, a machine gunner who e-mailed Denise Wilson to say he was preparing to dismount from a seven-ton truck, with Ivan Wilson 30 meters ahead of him, when he was hit by the explosive. “I prayed for him right away when I found out that he was hit.”

A United Nations report an area in the heart where opium poppy cultivation activity is extremely high.

It's also the heart of the insurgency, Dr. Tom Gouttiere, director of the University of Nebraska's Center for Afghan Studies, told Lake County News in an interview.

In southern Afghanistan, including Helmand province, what Gouttiere called the “Neo-Taliban” – insurgency forces including former Taliban fighters and new members – are waging war against coalition forces.

The opium poppies in the area form an important funding source on the black market for Neo-Taliban and Al Qaida, and the groups fight to protect the crop, Gouttiere said.

“Marines take on the tasks of going in and being a kind of an attack force in critical, crucial areas,” said Gouttiere, including Helmand, which also is the site of critical electrical grid and hydroelectric projects.

Intense fighting has taken place in the area in the last few months. The Associated Press reported on July 17 that a senior Taliban commander had been among 10 insurgents killed in an air strike in Naw Zad district.

Since Ivan Wilson's death, several more British soldiers have been killed in Helmand province as well, according to British media reports.

As Hall would write to Denise Wilson in a followup e-mail, “We chose a dangerous profession.”

“He led from the front and that is why he is not here today,” Denise Wilson said.

First Lt. Curtis Williamson, spokesman for the First Marine Division, told Lake County News that Lance Corporal Ivan Wilson's awards included the Combat Action Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Reconstructing lives

Ivan Wilson's little sister, Jackie, is a bright teen who was home on summer break from college when the news of her older brother's death arrived.

She's studying at St. Mary's College in Moraga, considering a sociology major and psychology minor.

Denise Wilson stands by a little altar of sorts to her son set up in the kitchen – photos of him from high school and later in the Marine Corps, a set of his dog tags and a small Marine on a key chain he gave to her and to his father, Chris, who lives in Clearlake also.

She looks at the pictures of her son, and then at her daughter, and worries that Jackie will be OK when she goes back to school.

Little Nathaniel – “Nate Dogg,” a name his older brother and no one else got to call him – doesn't quite understand yet. Her eldest son loved his little brother, Denise Wilson said, showing a picture from Ivan Wilson's basic training in which he holds up Nathaniel.

The whole family is working on holding it together, and they have the support of other Marine parents, friend and neighbors, and the community. On Wednesday morning Denise Wilson received a call from Congressman Mike Thompson in Washington, D.C., asking how he could help.

She said she's grateful for all the letters and notes. “I'm just thankful for all those people,” she said.

Denise Wilson's grief is free of ideology or any hint of a political stance. She's just a mom, still not believing her firstborn son died thousands of miles away.

“I can't take back what happened,” she said of her feelings about her son's death. Of the war, she added, “I think it needs to end soon or come to some resolution.”

First and foremost, she loves her children, and wants to support them.

So, what if Nathaniel came to her in 16 or 17 years, wanting to follow in his big brother's footsteps, and join the military?

She said she wouldn't tell him no.

“I would be supportive of anything my kids wanted to do,” she said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at [email protected]

Wilson's services planned for Aug. 16

Memorial services for Lance Corporal Ivan Wilson are still being finalized, his family said Wednesday.

His remains are currently in Dover, Delaware, and will be transported to Clearlake on Thursday, Aug. 14.

A motorcade is being arranged for Aug. 14, and information will be forthcoming on where the public can gather to view the motorcade and pay their respects.

A public viewing of Wilson's closed casket will be held Friday, Aug. 15, his mother, Denise Wilson, said.

His funeral is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 16 at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Clearlake. The time is still to be determined.

26th MEU completes its training

Deployment this fall; destination undeclared

After six months of training, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is ready to deploy.


July 31, 2008 - 12:51AM

"At this point in time, we're just ready to load up the ship and head east," said Lt. Col. John Capdepon, executive officer of the 26th MEU.

The MEU - made up of a command element, an aviation combat element, an infantry battalion landing team and a combat logistics element - went through a compressed predeployment period, training in three at-sea periods instead of the traditional four. Because of operational requirements, the unit extended its composite training unit exercise by about a week, using the training period to also complete what normally would be a separate certification exercise.

But the Marines "are prepared, both mentally and operationally, to deploy," Capdepon said.

The last North Carolina-based MEU to deploy also went through just three at-sea periods. The 24th MEU canceled its last at-sea training when commanders learned the unit would deploy to Afghanistan, traveling by air.

The 26th MEU still plans to deploy by sea in the early fall, and no specific destination has been announced.

During the predeployment training period, Marines with II Marine Expeditionary Force Special Operations Training Group give the MEU situations, and they must take action. The training exercises test the unit's ability to carry out various types of missions. Some included conducting a raid, recovering a downed unmanned aerial vehicle and dealing with a mass casualty situation.

"They have to learn to operate within the constraints of the ship's capabilities," said Maj. Ron Jones, operations officer for II MEF SOTG. "If they don't do it now, they will have to figure it out later."

Marines with the special operations training group observe the training and evaluate the MEU over the six-month period to determine if the unit can be certified "special operations capable."

During the 26th MEU's urban training exercise in Indiana, the Marines were tested with a real-life humanitarian aid mission. The MEU was called into action when heavy floods threatened levees in Elnora, Ind. Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2/6 filled and laid sandbags to protect the community from the rising water.

The 26th MEU also faced a challenge other MEUs have not encountered - the commanding officer and the sergeant major both changed during the training cycle. But Col. Mark Desens, the current commanding officer, said the transition has gone smoothly.

"We're in really good shape," Desens said. "I think we're ready."

A boost to the economy

KARMA, Iraq – A large percentage of new businesses in the U.S. fail within the first year.Starting a business in Iraq is no different, if not harder, but with the help of Marines with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, four Iraqi businessmen have hopes of beating the odds.


Story by Cpl. Chadwick debree and Cpl. Stephen McGinnis

Senior leaders of the company met with the businessmen, a carpenter, a pharmacist, a car painter and a mechanic, July 7 at Gnather Iraqi Police Station and handed them each a micro-grant to help jump start their businesses. The grants were available as part of the Micro-grant Program, started by RCT-1 in an effort to improve the economy in its area of operations by supporting small business owners.

Approximately $10,000 was distributed among the four businessmen, who were chosen based on an assessment by Marines and IPs while on patrols.

“We had (business owners) fill out questionnaires,” said 1st Lt. Aaron Brusch, Executive Officer, Company F, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “Out of the 50-plus questionnaires we received back, (leaders in) our company prioritized which of them seemed most likely to benefit from the grants.”

The store owners who applied for the grants were prioritized based on the type of service they provided, how much the grant could help each individual improve their business and how their improved business could contribute to the overall economy.

Each recipient was excited to receive the funds. All said they would either hire more workers or buy supplies they previously could not afford.

“I can’t explain how happy and grateful I am to the Marines for helping me and my business,” said Wassan Ahmed Ali. “This will greatly help me, and I appreciate the Marines for everything that they have done to help me and other Iraqis.”

Marines with the company later followed up with the business owners to see how much the grants really helped their businesses.

“All have either hired new workers, bought more supplies or expanded and improved their stores,” said Brusch.

July 30, 2008

Michael and Terry Ward Donate $1 Million to Wounded Warrior Project (WWP)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., July 30, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a non-profit organization that honors and empowers wounded warriors, today announced that Michael Ward, chairman and chief executive officer of CSX Corporation, and his wife Terry have personally contributed $1 million toward education and rehabilitation.


Last update: 8:00 a.m. EDT July 30, 2008

The $1 million donation is to support WWP's new initiative called Training Rehabilitation Advocacy Center (TRACK), which offers wounded warriors critical services to complete their transition to civilian lives. With this funding, WWP will build a new education center and create a 12-month education and rehabilitation program based at WWP headquarters in Jacksonville.

The Wards' personal donation follows CSX's $100,000 sponsorship of WWP's Warriors to Work program, which helps service members recovering from catastrophic injuries to build careers in the civilian workforce.

"Michael and Terry's amazing generosity cannot be overstated and is a prime example of the good that corporate leaders and their families can do," said John Melia, WWP Executive Director. "By funding TRACK, as well as our Warriors to Work program, the Wards and CSX are giving the severely wounded men and women of our armed forces access to all of the skills, education and preparation necessary to not only find a job, but to find a career in which they will thrive and succeed."

As part of TRACK, students will receive a scholarship, as well as housing and living expenses. Florida Community College at Jacksonville will provide TRACK classes that can be applied toward a variety of degrees, and warriors will continue with concurrent physical rehabilitation. Internships and part-time employment also will be offered students.

"Terry and I are grateful, as are all Americans, for the sacrifice of these brave men and women who put their lives at risk to ensure our freedom," Ward said. "They have given so much to us, and we are pleased to give something back. We have admired the work of the Wounded Warrior Project and are proud that its national headquarters are part of our Jacksonville community."

"More than 30,000 service members have been injured during the global war on terror, and many more have been injured in mind and spirit, Melia said. "We are gratified that WWP has touched the lives of tens of thousands of injured service members and helped them in the transition from a hospital bed to an independent and productive life," he added.

About Wounded Warrior Project

Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors. WWP serves to raise awareness and enlist the public's aid for the needs of severely injured service men and women, to help severely injured service members aid and assist each other and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs. For more information, please call (904) 296-7350 or visit http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org.

July 28, 2008

New GI Bill answers

When benefits start. Who will qualify. How much you may get

By Rick Maze - [email protected]
Posted : July 28, 2008

Just more than a year from now, on Aug. 1, 2009, veterans’ education benefits will undergo a life-changing transformation that will make a four-year college degree suddenly affordable for a new generation of wartime veterans.

To continue reading:


July 26, 2008

Marine thanks the Corps with service

During the Korean War, U.S. Marines fought to defend the citizens of South Korea against communist North Korea.


7/26/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

The Marines possibly saved millions of lives, including the life of one woman who would become the grandmother of a future Marine.

Cpl. Samuel E. Shin, a mortarman with Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, decided to join the Marine Corps to serve with the same organization that saved his grandmother.

Shin believes he is an American because of his grandmother’s strength. During the Korean War, she was on the run constantly from the communists.

“My grandmother has had it really hard her entire life,” said Shin, 25, from Fairfax, Va. “Her life has consisted of running away and surviving. She is the strongest person I know and probably will ever know.”

His grandmother was surrounded by explosions and violence everyday for several months in South Korea. She was constantly on the run to keep her self alive until the Marines arrived.

“The country was in such a horrible condition, but after the Marines came, she no longer heard or saw violence and death,” said Shin.

After the Korean War, his grandmother knew she had to become a United States citizen to be safe and raise a family. She saved up money, moved to America to live with her sister-in-law and applied for her green card.

When Shin was born, his parents abandoned him, so his grandmother took him in to her care. Since his grandmother raised him and told him her story, he established a love for the Marine Corps because of what happened to her and South Korea.

“I was motivated to join the Corps because South Korea was such a small nation that was invaded by its neighbors,” said Shin. “The Marines saved millions of lives and now the country is one of the most technologically advanced and richest countries in the world.”

Now on his first deployment, Shin is prouder than ever to serve alongside his fellow Marines. According to him, he owes his life to the Marine Corps.

“The service has changed my life and made me appreciate all of the small things in living,” he said.

Because of his pride in serving alongside his fellow Marines, he has shared his knowledge and motivated those around him. According to service members with Delta Co., he is very proficient at his job and strives to teach other Marines about it as well.

“When it comes to knowing his job, Cpl. Shin is the most efficient Marine at it,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher L. Melton, 19, a field radio operator from Westminster, Md., with Delta Co. “Because of his teachings, I have become a more well-rounded and knowledgeable Marine.”

“Shin is always the first to volunteer for any extra duties,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey P. Hetrick, 33, a platoon sergeant from New Market, N.H., with Delta Co. “He’s never hesitant to engage on new challenges.”

Shin plans, after the Marine Corps, include opening up his own hardware business and traveling the world after graduating from George Mason University. Until then, he will proudly serve his country as one of America’s finest.

“Shin is a very passionate person who believes and has faith in the Marine Corps’ mission,” said Cpl. Edgar A. Mazanegos, 32, a vehicle commander from Ashburn, Va., with Delta Co. “In any combat situation, I would want him there with me.

Marines relax with sports

The stresses of a constant operational tempo give Marines the need for something to balance out the tension. Some Marines have found a way to relax by participating in outdoor sporting activities.


7/26/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines with Delta Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd LAR Bn., Regimental Combat Team 5 take available time to relieve stress with exercises ranging from driving golf balls to playing touch football.

Delta Company is a reserve light-armored infantry element attached to 2nd LAR Bn. in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“We’re just having a little fun whenever we have time off from missions everyday,” said Cpl. Phil E. Guernsey, 22, from Centerville, Va., a vehicle commander with Delta Co. “It’s nice to find something that brings a taste of home and be exercising at the same time.”

During the activities, the Marines gather to play football, basketball, horse shoes, ultimate Frisbee, and golf. The equipment was either brought to Iraq or sent to the Marines by their families. According to the Marines, the activities help pass the time and keep morale up in their small combat outpost in western Al Anbar province.

“The activities make you feel better because you’re with your fellow Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Scott J. Baish, 22, a scout with Delta Co. from Smithburg, Md. “Whenever you’re exercising, you go into your own world where the stresses melt away.”

The Marines play these games as often as they can. Although the exercise is a paramount factor in the activities, the service members utilize the experience as an opportunity to bond and maintain relationships despite the hectic schedule.

“It’s good for the Marines to relax, establish camaraderie and hang out with others you haven’t seen in a while because of the tempo,” said Sgt. Will Taylor, 24, a light-armored vehicle mechanic with Delta Co. from King George, Va. “It’s downright fun, and that causes Marines to unite through friendly competition.”

Operations won’t cease for these Marines until they return to the United States, but with activities like these, they will remain vigilant.

July 24, 2008

New sheik takes stand against AQI

SITCHER, Iraq (July 24, 2008) – Marines and Iraqi tribal and security officials gathered near the Sitcher Iraqi Police Station to celebrate the inauguration of a new local sheik July 24.


Story by Cpl. Chadwick deBree

Amar Abdullah Husain al-Jumaili received his official appointment as a sheik, replacing his uncle, Sheik Ahmed Sarham, who was killed along with 20 other sheiks and three Marines after a suicide bombing at a meeting in Karma.

Marines of 2nd Platoon, Company G, Task Force 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, attended the ceremony to pay their respects.

“Sheik (Amar) is a great man and a great leader, and I’m confident he’ll do good things here,” said 1st Lt. Hussein Yaghnam, platoon commander, 2nd Platoon, Company G, Task Force 2/3.

Sheik Sarham lost his life while working to promote progress and peace, a mission the Marines are confident will be continued.

“(The community) is still in mourning because they lost a great leader,” Yaghnam said. “But they’re still pushing through and moving forward. That’s why this event is so significant; because it shows that the Iraqi people are determined to push through no matter what al-Qaida in Iraq throws at them. Regardless of what they do, AQI is loosing their foothold in the area.”

Before being appointed as a sheik, Amar was a captain and assistant to the station chief at the Sitcher IP Station, putting him in a position to already know everyone in the area, know what the area needs and to provide a bridge between Coalition forces and IP.

“Since working with Marines, a lot has been accomplished,” Amar said. “First the station was made, then it was made bigger. (The Marines) started to train us on how to stand post, how to police call, how to search houses, how to patrol and they supplied us with radios. Most of all they taught us the basics of human rights. They taught us that if we go into a house we have to respect the people living there and their property. They taught us not to detain anyone unless we have the evidence against them and they taught us to respect women.

“All these things are helping us get along with the people we protect,” said Amar. “Before, this area was a stronghold for terrorists, but with the police learning (from the Marines), all the terrorists are gone.”

Through IP efforts, along with the help of the Marines with Task Force 2/3, the area is returning to a stable state.

“We have our foot in the door and we’re not pulling it out,” Yaghnam said. “We’re going to keep giving the Iraqi people the support that we can, to complete our mission and their mission, and that mission is Iraqi self-governance.”

Amar, along with Sheik Rabia Abd Suliman al-Jumaili, the head sheik of the area, has already assisted with projects to help better the community, and he plans to continue the progress.

“Things have been very good in the area,” Rabia said. “We’ve fixed two schools and mosques, cleaned the canals, built bridges over the canals and gave out about 500 food bags to poor families. Now we want to concentrate on building a (medical) clinic here to help the people that are sick.”

U.S. Marines Take On the Taliban in Afghanistan

GARMSIR, AFGHANISTAN—At this spartan combat outpost in the heart of Helmand province, U.S. marines are preparing for what may be their toughest fight yet. Under the cover of darkness, they will push out to take up positions for a battle that they hope will break up a key Taliban stronghold in what is currently one of the most dangerous regions in the country.


By Anna Mulrine
Posted July 24, 2008

For the moment, though, their job is to rest up and dodge the 124-degree heat, waiting for the go-ahead while they attend to the rituals of war in the windy high desert. Marines sleep outside on the ground or on the hoods of humvees parked in the middle of opium poppy fields. Sand penetrates everything, so Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Justin Carter cleans his bullets with baby wipes to make sure they are free from grit that could cause his rifle to jam. Cpl. Brandon Karana, a forward scout and former logger, pulls his rifle apart and scrubs it with a toothbrush. He holds it up to inspect his handiwork. "I hope I don't have to fire this thing," he says.

That is looking unlikely. To date, the 1st Battalion Landing Team of the 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit—2,200 troops sent here in March to bolster struggling British forces—has been ambushed by Taliban fighters with rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs, and striking battle savvy. In one particularly fierce assault, marines from Weapons Company were pinned down in an hour-and-a-half-long firefight.

As the 24th MEU has pushed south, the size of Taliban units it is fighting has grown larger, from pockets of three to five to groups of as many as 25 to 30 fighters. And they are well trained. Resistance has been so fierce—and so unexpected, they add—that the unit is on Day 30 of what it initially thought would be a two-to-three-day campaign.

Many of the men here are not new to combat. The 24th MEU fought during the toughest years of the insurgency in Iraq, where urban street battles in cities like Fallujah and Ramadi "were like getting into a fistfight in a phone booth," recalls 1st Lt. Tom Lefebvre, a Weapons Company platoon leader. During its 2004 deployment to Fallujah and then in Ramadi from September 2006 to May 2007, the battalion weathered brutal attacks on a daily basis. Soon after the unit's tour was extended to nine months from six as part of the surge, the marines began to see progress. "It wasn't a matter of if you thought you were making a difference," says Cpl. Scott Oaks of Stewartville, Ala. "You could see a difference."

Here, they are not so sure. They have watched British colleagues fight to retake from the Taliban some of the same hills where old British forts from colonial-era campaigns in the 1800s still stand. Since 2006, control of this town has changed hands three times. Marines say that they are willing to do the hard fighting to clear out the area again. But, they occasionally wonder, to what end—and at what cost? "I've got no problem going after the Taliban," says Weapons Company 1st Sgt. Lee Wunder. "But we'd all like to see, for all our effort and hard work, when we leave that there is someone to backfill for us."

They have received no word yet on when, or if, this will happen. As U.S. casualties in Afghanistan continue to rise, there has been talk of shifting troops from Iraq. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen has made it clear, however, that current troop levels in Iraq preclude such an increase. Earlier this year, the Pentagon emphasized that the marines' deployment to Helmand was an "extraordinary, one-time" commitment.

The unit has just learned that its eight-month tour will be extended by one month to November. In the meantime, Mullen has raised questions about the consequences of what he calls an "economy of force" campaign in Afghanistan. "We don't have enough troops there to hold," he says. "And that is key, clearly, to the future of being able to succeed in Afghanistan."

"Beat up pretty bad." Weapons Company was sent in to support comrades in Alpha Company, camped just down the road in this town that serves as a major crossing point on the Helmand River. Here, the Taliban funnels fighters and supplies, and frequently Alpha Company bears the brunt of indirect fire in attacks on its compound just a few hundred yards away. A rifle unit, "Alpha Company was getting beat up pretty bad," says Weapons Company Master Sgt. Rodney Abbott. "It was time for the heavy guns to come down."

Because they thought it would be a quick operation, Alpha Company marines traveled light, carrying only bare essentials on their backs. They each filled CamelBaks with the equivalent of 54 water bottles each for the first three days. Many left even sleeping bags behind. With food and ammunition, gear for each gi weighed an average of 125 pounds, minus the body armor.

This is the largest opium-producing region in the world, and the marines' heavy packs posed hazards in the deeply rutted poppy fields that surround the town. The troops suffered sprained ankles and heat exhaustion. Weapons Company became mired in the fields on its way down as well, as the heavy new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, got stuck in fields and soft sand. At one point, it took the company three hours to go 400 yards. There are other hazards as well, some occasionally doubling as comic relief. The untended donkeys that run and graze in the fields outside the compound—an area the marines have nicknamed the petting zoo—nip at patrols. Troops have been bitten by horses and threatened by rabid dogs. And they have experienced firsthand the largely unexplored consequences of drug consumption among domestic animals. A goat grazing on the marijuana plants that grow here lost its footing after climbing to the top of a pile of discarded boxes and then tumbled down onto a marine dozing in his sleeping bag.

But such comic relief is short-lived. In May, Weapons Company was ambushed by Taliban forces and pinned down in the 90-minute firefight. "We didn't think they'd pour it on like that," says Abbott. "It was one of those things where they just keep turning the volume up, and it was getting louder and louder. There were 30 minutes when we were full-bore reloading," he says. "The next morning, we were like, 'How the hell did we survive that?' "

Recently, Weapons Company lost one of its snipers, at the time detailed to Alpha Company, in an ambush. Such losses take their toll on individual marines. "They get fed up. They cop attitudes and don't talk," says Weapons Company Commander Cpt. Michael Little. "You have to pull them aside and say, 'You're endangering your fellow marines.' That's what 99 percent of the guys respond to." Here, marines "fluctuate between extreme pissed-off-ness and extreme bored-ness," he adds. Oaks, who joined the Marines because he wanted to be just like the grandfather who raised him, has his own analogy. "You take the best family dog you can think of—loving, caring, the whole nine yards. And you build a wall around it. Then you start throwing hand grenades at it," he says. "Well, that dog is never going to be the same."

Beneath a camouflaged canopy on the compound, Cpl. Randall Clinton flips through a magazine. Reading material is at a premium here, since most of the marines couldn't take up pack space carting in periodicals. Clinton is narrating an article about "Seven Ways to Get to Heaven" in the hopes of helping Oaks choose a religion. "Here, we'll go through it—maybe we can find one that's right for you," he jokes. He begins with Hinduism. "You'll need karma," says Clinton. "Well, that's a bitch—my life is a living hell," Oaks replies. "Next." They dismiss Islam because of its ban on drinking. "Here's Christianity," Clinton tries again. "This is pretty popular where you're from."

The battalion's chaplain, Lt. Jeff Jenkins, makes his rounds to the company outposts to lend a professional perspective to the religion discussion. But mostly he wants to see how troops are doing. Weapons Company left 30 marines, or 14 percent of its ranks, back in the States because of trouble they got into with the law, alcohol abuse, or post-traumatic stress, says Wunder.

The transition between war zone and home life can be difficult for myriad reasons, he adds, and some go home with a post-combat sense of entitlement. "They have served, and they have been to war," says Wunder. "And they sometimes feel like it's the Wild West, that the rules don't apply to them."

By now, after multiple deployments, marines know what to expect. "You get home a little bit angrier," says 1st Lt. John Branson, a Weapons Company platoon leader. "Your wife gets scared." When Cpl. Jesse Bosnak came home after deployment in Ramadi, his girlfriend gave him a magazine quiz to see if he suffers post-traumatic stress as a result of an Iraq attack that killed his driver and left shrapnel embedded in his skin. That led her to believe that his symptoms reflected traumatic brain injury from a concussion rather than PTSD, says Bosnak, who signed a predeployment waiver agreeing to defer further medical review until he returns from Helmand. He had wanted to see the Mediterranean ports of call that were supposed to be his unit's next tour of duty, only to find the deployment shifted to Afghanistan instead.

Seeking the POO. On the eve of the operation, Apache Company is hit with another attack. A platoon on patrol is taking fire from a tree line 200 yards away. Apache is trying to call in an air strike, but first the troops need to determine the "POO," or point of origin, of the attack. They have only five minutes of air support left before a marine Harrier combat jet circling overhead runs so low on fuel that it must leave to gas up.

To help guide the planes, Apache has an embedded pilot talking directly to the aircraft and to the home base. Capt. Jason Dale, call sign "Chippin," is a relaxed and unflappable Kentucky native. He has trained the troops back at the base to begin their daily check-in with the scores from the games of his beloved Cincinnati Reds. He is also waiting for news of the birth of his third child, due any day.

Beside him, a half-dozen troops sit on the crates they use for chairs at the company's makeshift combat control center—a plywood plank topped with computers, boxes of batteries, and a jar of garlic salt, which they shake on their food to ward off mosquitoes. They are relaying information and rapidly calling in coordinates. "I'm so going to repeat this right now, because I'm getting confused," says one. The marines are calculating the casualty radius of a potential strike, while continuing to pinpoint precisely where the fire is coming from. "We're losing time with the air," says Dale. They identify the POO and call in final coordinates. "Yes, drop—are we approved?" They get approval for a strike. "Make sure the boys are buttoned up," says another marine on the radio, seconds before explosions—in the form of two 500-pound bombs—rock the compound. It is midafternoon as the marines catch their breath. "As you can see," says one, "we haven't quite moved into the counterinsurgency phase yet."

Troops here debate what is worse—repelling groups of Taliban fighters with good command and control in Helmand or the asymmetrical guerrilla hit-and-run attacks they weathered in Ramadi. "In Iraq, it was just a guy and a couple of his buddies. These guys are better," says one marine. "We saw more RPGs here in the first two days then we'd ever dreamed of in Iraq." They also miss air conditioning on foot patrols in Iraq. "We'd stop in a house and get to watch Spaceballs in Arabic," adds Cpl. Richard Fowler wistfully.

Here, too, the mud brick walls that surround homes—and that Taliban fighters use for protection—have proved disconcertingly resistant to U.S. artillery. Alpha Company has also discovered textbook trenches and fortified bunkers—some booby-trapped—in and around the compound that it took over after a recent battle with local Taliban. Marines are relieved, though, that they are able to more freely use air support in this rural area and that they haven't come across the sheer volume of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that they encountered in Iraq. But they also fear that the use of roadside bombs is on the rise.

Eavesdropping. As it prepares to push out, Weapons Company 2nd Platoon builds a volleyball court-size topographic map in the sand, piling up stones for houses and shredding pieces of fabric to denote rivers and canals. The forward scouts have scoped out the route, and the MEU has been picking up radio transmissions indicating that some Taliban commanders are being reprimanded by their senior leaders for the marines' recent territorial gains. That hasn't stopped Taliban reinforcements from continuing to flow across the Pakistani border, some 75 miles to the south, in large numbers.

With news of the arrival of U.S. troops, many of the villagers loaded up tractors and cleared out. A number of families remain encamped on the outskirts of the hot desert town, many too frightened by Taliban threats to accept the food brought over by U.S. troops. "This could become a humanitarian crisis," says one marine.

An interpreter from Edgewater, N.J., has recently arrived at the outpost on the supply convoy, a bumpy six-hour stop-and-go ride over 7 miles of dirt road to deliver ammunition, food, and water to the company outposts. As he walks around the compound, he expresses concern about one of the "burn pits," an outdoor oven where the marines—with no toilets to use—have been disposing of bags of waste. "That's where the family bakes their bread," he says, noting that the compound owners might view the marines' unwitting act as a deliberate insult. He also worries about the embroidered bedding spread throughout the compound. "This is where families here put all of their wealth," he explains, to buy blankets and pillows to make guests more comfortable.

Some of the marines are fatalistic. "You know after we leave they're just going to come in here and [mess] up everything anyway," says one. "Blame it on us and try to get some money," in the form of compensation that NATO troops pay to locals for damaged property. Weapons Company suspects that the compound is the home of a drug lord. There are rooms filled with mementos, jewelry boxes, and even birth control pills from Iran. "They left in a hurry," says a marine known as Rock, a Weapons Company intelligence specialist and one of the few Afghan-Americans in the corps.

Rock is gibed by his fellow troops—one evening as the sun sets, they quiz him on American movies and music. When he doesn't know the answer, they deduct "patriotism points." They also come to him frequently with questions about locals they encounter. He keeps a picture of his mother in his wallet, a young woman wearing a miniskirt, taken while she was working as a professor of psychology in Kandahar. "They could wear miniskirts?" asked one young soldier, grabbing the picture for closer inspection. Many women did decades ago, Rock explains, but now the country is a different, more traditional place. Out on patrol, where he often encounters villagers impatient to return home, Rock has been surprised by their tolerance of the foreign troops. "These people say to us, 'I will leave my home for you. Thank God for you—we pray for you every day.' "

The chaplain, too, stops by to offer one last prayer for the troops before they leave.

As evening approaches, the marines nap on hospital stretchers in the shade. Gradually, though, Little begins relaying word that the operation has been delayed. Headquarters has found a roadside bomb that the mine-detection sweepers didn't recognize. For now, the batallion must figure out the problem, recalibrate, and resweep the dirt roads.

Some marines turn over and continue napping; others get up to clean their rifles again or do laundry in ammunition cans that they fill with well water. They are not sure now when they will push out. Some are frustrated, impatient to fight. Others are more subdued, aware of the enormity of the task ahead of them in the months to come.

Indeed, since their arrival, they have been struck not only by the ferocity of the fighting but by the immense poverty they have encountered. In Fallujah and Ramadi, families had tables and china cabinets and televisions, the marines note. "You look at these areas, and there is just nothing," says Oaks. The literacy rate in many villages is in the single digits. "Education here is just way too low, and even if you're just talking about bringing in electricity, it's going to take years and years and years."

And more troops, marines here add, who may or may not be coming. That's for generals and politicians to figure out. "All I know is that I'm being told this is the most dangerous place in the country," Oaks says. "And all I see is us."

July 23, 2008

Senior Taliban leader killed in Afghanistan

KABUL: British forces killed a Taliban leader, while another Taliban commander in the southern Afghanistan surrendered to the Pakistani authorities, the British Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.


Abdul Rasaq, also known as Mullah Sheikh, a Taliban leader in southern Helmand province, was killed along with three others in a missile strike north of Musa Qala on Sunday, the ministry said. Hours earlier, Mullah Rahim, said to be a senior Taliban leader in Helmand, had given himself up to the authorities in Pakistan, it said.

In an other incident, the United States-led coalition and Afghan forces killed or wounded more than 30 Taliban during fighting in the west of Afghanistan, a senior police official said on Tuesday. Fighting broke out in the Bala Boluk district of Farah province on Tuesday, Regional Police Chief Ikramuddin Yawar said. “So far more than 30 Taliban insurgents have been killed or wounded in the operation,” Yawar said, adding, “The toll might be more than 30 because the operation is ongoing.” A US-led convoy was engaged with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades on Tuesday morning in Bala Boluk, a military spokesman said. Air strikes were called in but no munitions were dropped and the US military could not confirm if any Taliban had been killed, he said.

In Kabul, a Taliban suicide bomber wounded five civilians when he blew himself up as police challenged him on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry said. The bomber struck early in the morning in the Gozargah area of Kabul, next to the walls of the historic tomb of the 16th century Mughal emperor Babur. In the central Afghan province of Ghazni, militants killed four brothers, all police officers, and captured their father in an attack on their home, the Interior Ministry said. agencies

Helping, training military familes

An Elk Grove-based foundation that formed to help military families now finds itself not only providing them support and financial assistance, but cutting-edge technology as well.


By Eileen Daday | ColumnistPublished: 7/23/2008 12:04 AMSend To:

Roy and Georgette Frank of Elk Grove Village started the Heart Of A Marine Foundation in 2005, after their son, Lance Corp. Phillip Frank, was killed near Fallujah in April 2004.

Over the last two and a half years, they have sent countless care packages to deployed military, as well as 1,000 orthopedic canes to injured veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

Their most recent contribution arrived at Hines VA Hospital last month: 20 computers, including five laptops, and 20 professional versions of Aphasia software, designed to promote speech, language and cognitive development to victims of stroke and head injury.

At Hines, its users are expected to be the increasing number of military personnel coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injury.

"It's a godsend," says Laura Chalcraft, a speech and language pathologist at Hines. "It's just awesome."

She points to the majority of vets she treats who have cognitive and memory attention deficits, as well as speech delays. In fact, an article in the January edition of the New England Journal of Medicine labeled traumatic brain injury as a "signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Specifically, the interactive Aphasia software gives many of the same prompts that a therapist would in working with a patient to advance independent speech, language and cognitive stimulation.

There are multiple levels of difficulty, and the computer tracks each patient's progress, allowing for an individual program to be tailored to the needs of each vet.

"The cool thing is that because it's on the computer, they can use it independently," Chalcraft says, "so that it increases their therapy and training, which leads to an increase in cognitive skills."

Only recently have the advances made through the Aphasia software been applied to returning veterans. Heart Of A Marine supporters learned of its benefits from their contacts with the Marine Corps League in New Jersey.

"We felt this was a great thing, and that the foundation should get involved with it," Roy Frank says.

Foundation members are not done yet. Later this month they plan to supply computers and more Aphasia software to the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, before approaching veterans' officials in North Chicago, Palo Alto, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; and Richmond, Va.

Like Hines, all are designated as Level II Polytrauma Centers, where traumatic brain injury patients are sent. Ultimately, Frank adds, they would like to implement the software in every VA trauma center in the country.

"Our prayer is that this software get in the hands of the people who really need it," Frank says.

For the Hines donation, they purchased the computers and software packages with Illinois grant money obtained from the Veterans Cash Lottery, but they will be funding the Minneapolis gift - and all out of state contributions - from the foundation.

To find out more, or make a donation, visit the Web site, at www.heartofamarine.org.

July 22, 2008

Taliban leader surrenders

THE Taliban has been dealt a crippling blow after their leader in Helmand province surrendered – fearing the SBS were about to kill him next.


Defence Editor

Published: 22 Jul 2008

Mullah Abdul Rahim handed himself in to Pakistani police over the border from Afghanistan late on Saturday evening, The Sun has exclusively learned.

One of Top Five most wanted Taliban bosses, Rahim gave himself up after two of his senior henchmen were killed within two weeks by the elite Navy special forces unit.

Rahim answered directly to one-eyed Taliban boss Mullah Omar.

He was taken into custody in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where senior Taliban leadership are in hiding, intelligence sources revealed.

British commanders last night dubbed Rahim’s surrender as a massive breakthrough that would plunge militant force in Helmand into disarray.


British forces spokesman in Helmand Lt Col Robin Matthews said: “The Taliban’s senior leadership structure has suffered a shattering blow.

“They remain a dangerous enemy but they increasingly lack strategic direction and their proposition to the Afghan people is proving ultimately negative and self-defeating.

Helmand governor Gulab Mangal last night appealed to all remaining Taliban fighters in the province to lay down their arms.


He said: “This is a great message for Helmand province. I advise all those Taliban who are engaging with terrorist actions that the fighting has no benefit. So this is the time to join with the Islamic Republic and choose a good, right and honourable way”.

As The Sun also revealed, Rahim’s deputy for northern Helmand Mullah Bishmullah was shot dead by SBS commandos on July 13.

And expert bomb-maker Mullah Sadiqullah was assassinated by a Hellfire missile fired into his 4x4 by an Apache gunship helicopter on June 26.

A few hours after Rahim surrendered, British forces claimed their third senior scalp in Helmand.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the Taliban commander for the northern Musa Qalah area, Mullah Sheikh, was killed in a Hellfire missile strike fired from an unmanned Reaper drone flown by the RAF.

Sheikh was attacked and killed by three henchmen as they walked in fields 15km north of Musa Qalah.

In February last year, Mullah Rahim boasted that the insurgency had 10,000 fighters ready to launch a fierce offensive in the spring "as the weather becomes warm and leaves turn green."

It was thought he had been killed in an air strike last July in northern Helmand, but he narrowly escaped.

Mullar Omar appointed Rahim as the shadow governor of Helmand province.

Taliban leader surrenders

THE Taliban has been dealt a crippling blow after their leader in Helmand province surrendered – fearing the SBS were about to kill him next.


Defence Editor

Published: 22 Jul 2008

Mullah Abdul Rahim handed himself in to Pakistani police over the border from Afghanistan late on Saturday evening, The Sun has exclusively learned.

One of Top Five most wanted Taliban bosses, Rahim gave himself up after two of his senior henchmen were killed within two weeks by the elite Navy special forces unit.

Rahim answered directly to one-eyed Taliban boss Mullah Omar.

He was taken into custody in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where senior Taliban leadership are in hiding, intelligence sources revealed.

British commanders last night dubbed Rahim’s surrender as a massive breakthrough that would plunge militant force in Helmand into disarray.


British forces spokesman in Helmand Lt Col Robin Matthews said: “The Taliban’s senior leadership structure has suffered a shattering blow.

“They remain a dangerous enemy but they increasingly lack strategic direction and their proposition to the Afghan people is proving ultimately negative and self-defeating.

Helmand governor Gulab Mangal last night appealed to all remaining Taliban fighters in the province to lay down their arms.

He said: “This is a great message for Helmand province. I advise all those Taliban who are engaging with terrorist actions that the fighting has no benefit. So this is the time to join with the Islamic Republic and choose a good, right and honourable way”.

As The Sun also revealed, Rahim’s deputy for northern Helmand Mullah Bishmullah was shot dead by SBS commandos on July 13.

And expert bomb-maker Mullah Sadiqullah was assassinated by a Hellfire missile fired into his 4x4 by an Apache gunship helicopter on June 26.

A few hours after Rahim surrendered, British forces claimed their third senior scalp in Helmand.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the Taliban commander for the northern Musa Qalah area, Mullah Sheikh, was killed in a Hellfire missile strike fired from an unmanned Reaper drone flown by the RAF.

Sheikh was attacked and killed by three henchmen as they walked in fields 15km north of Musa Qalah.

In February last year, Mullah Rahim boasted that the insurgency had 10,000 fighters ready to launch a fierce offensive in the spring "as the weather becomes warm and leaves turn green."

It was thought he had been killed in an air strike last July in northern Helmand, but he narrowly escaped.

Mullar Omar appointed Rahim as the shadow governor of Helmand province.

July 21, 2008

Operation Azada Wosa: Recounting the 24th MEU's progress in Garmsir

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Soon after changing deployment plans in mid-January and arriving in Afghanistan mid-March, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit began planning for counterinsurgency operations in southern Afghanistan, specifically focusing on the Garmsir District of Helmand Province.


7/21/2008 By 24th MEU Public Affairs, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

“The geography of Afghanistan is the geography of water. People live, crops grow and trade routes are all located within 10 kilometers either side of the river. Beyond that – it is barren desert,” said Col Peter Petronzio, commanding officer, 24th MEU, ISAF.

The water in Helmand Province is the Helmand River – the longest river in Afghanistan. It runs north to south through the center of the province and through the center of Garmsir. In the northern part of Garmsir there is an intricate canal and irrigation system, built by USAID in the 1950’s. Looking at a map and seeing how the Helmand River bulges at the northern edge of the district, it looks like the head of a snake. Which is why the Marines dubbed the area the “snake’s head”.

With their eyes turned to Garmsir, the Marines’ first task was to secure key routes though the district center – just south of the southernmost British forward operating base, and a region in which NATO-ISAF forces had not had a presence in years. This operation was only going to take a few days, seven to 10 or so.

Although the southern border of Afghanistan is porous and offers many routes through – all traffic converges on the river. Garmsir was a stronghold that allowed a throughput for insurgent’s logistics.

“Fighters and weapons funneled through there, it was a stop along the way to other locations in and out of Afghanistan,” said Maj. Carl McCleod, intelligence officer, 24th MEU, ISAF.

Knowing this, the true value of that land to the insurgents did not become clear until after the insurgents engaged Marines and refused to quickly concede.

“We were told that the insurgents would fight for a few days and then they would scatter,” McCleod said, “but that’s not what happened.”

Launching Operation Azada Wosa

It’s April 28th and more than 1,000 Marines sit and wait, some near helicopters that will deliver them to battle, others in vehicles parked in a vast, vacant desert, all covered by a moonless sky and unaware of a hitch that would delay their assault.

At 9:39 pm AV-8 Harriers are set to launch from Kandahar Airfield but there’s a problem: the refueling tanker support is temporarily lost. Without refuel capabilities the planes are grounded. This delay has a ripple effect on the entire operation - setting everything back about 40 minutes and requiring some on-the-spot creative problem solving.

“We couldn’t punch into the predetermined landing zones because we didn’t have the objective secure or at least have eyes-on it (from the Harriers),” said that night’s air mission commander Capt. Brandon L. Whitfield, officer in charge, Tactics and Planning, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-365, 24th MEU, ISAF. “I had to push the skids (the AH-1Ws and UH-1Ns – the fire support from above) in first, which was completely not planned - but it worked out, to get eyes-on, to make sure the landing zone was secure and then I had to bring the assault (the troops in the CH-46E and CH-53E helicopters) in.”

At 11:20 pm the first wave of Marines, in transport helicopters, depart for the landing area, followed two hours later by wave two, and so on under KC-130 provided battlefield illumination until dawn.

In the first hours of the insert some Marines jokingly call the operation: Operation Rolled Ankle. Marines charging off aircraft in the dark, along with the unfamiliar and difficult terrain and the weight of full combat load and sustainment gear combine to form a perfect storm of ankle and leg injuries. At one point during the insert the battalion commander, Lieutenant Col. Anthony Henderson, comes over the radio and says, “When you come off the helo, it’s quiet here, so WALK off the aircraft.”

By 3:00 am motorized Charlie Company arrives at a pre-staged launching point near the southernmost friendly outpost, south of them three Alpha Company Marines, two sprained ankles and one broken leg, are evacuated from the landing zone.

As the first beams of light break over the eastern horizon the Marines are in place, Charlie Company is set to create a diversion in the north and Alpha and Bravo Companies are inserted into their objectives to the south. The plan being that insurgents could not react to a three pronged attack and they would certainly not be ready for the Marines when they woke up in the morning, explained Maj. Mark D. McCarroll, battery commander, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, ISAF.

“They had no idea we were going to land that far south. They weren’t prepared for us. We literally dropped in behind them,” said McLeod. “It took them a few days to realize we were there in that size of force behind them.”

With adrenaline pumping through their veins, Marines perform the last few function checks on gear and weapons. Birds chirp in the trees, and it’s quiet enough to hear the babbling water in the canals. This is as tranquil Garmsir will be for the next month.

35 days and 170 enemy engagements

Just after 8:00 am on the 29th the sound of automatic weapons firing crackled through the air, Charlie Company, motorized but clearing the north on foot, was in contact with enemy forces.

For the next 48 hours Charlie Company wielded the power of combined arms with the precision of a sculptor, wreaking havoc on insurgent positions, before the fighting began to ebb and flow with intense firefights followed by hours of nothing. To the south, Alpha and Bravo companies began getting regular contact, catching some insurgents by surprise as they tried to escape to the south.

This was the start of Marine combat operations in Garmsir. In less than 12 hours the Marines penetrated into the enemy held territory of the Snake’s Head and seized key crossing points and terrain. For the next 35 days, the Marines and insurgents engaged in approximately 170 engagements.

Operations in May were maneuver warfare in its truest form. It was a constant struggle to gain the position of advantage over the enemy while fighting to keep the battalion supply lines open.

“The enemy consistently fought from fortified positions to include the hardened structures they evicted the civilians from,” said Maj. Todd Mahar, operations officer, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF. “They dug textbook trench lines and bunker systems and at times had mutually supporting positions.”

On a daily basis, Marines fought the “Three Block War”, ever mindful of precautions to protect innocent civilians. They were decisively engaged with the enemy in one area while they provided security and aid to the local populous a few kilometers away in another area, all while seizing ground and exploiting the area for weapons caches and intelligence, said Mahar.

“In some areas, within days of the initial assault, we began to see civilians repopulating areas that we had just cleared. They wanted to work their fields and live under the security of the Marines,” said Mahar.

One Last Push

On May 28, two Marine companies pushed from their eastern positions to the Helmand River, disrupting insurgent strongholds in between the two and essentially ending the combat phase of operations.

One of the objectives incorporated in this push included the insurgent base known as Jugroom Fort – the British objective in an attack Jan 15 last year.

“Much like we did on the initial assault, the insurgents were oriented to one direction, we went up around them and dropped in behind them … again,” said McLeod.

“Within 48 hours of us pushing down on them there was a mass exodus of insurgents,” said McLeod.

The last sustained engagement with enemy forces was May 30, but the hard work was just beginning.

Stable, but not secure

In June soon after ISAF’s command changed hands, the MEU’s mission was re-evaluated. Now, instead of securing routes through the district center and moving on to other missions, the MEU would remain in Garmsir to capitalize on successes achieved.

Although still clearing the area of insurgents albeit less dramatically than the past weeks, the Marines found themselves doing more of the hold and build tenets of counterinsurgency.

“I don’t see them as phases (the classic counterinsurgency doctrine of clear-hold-build),” said Petronzio. “I think of them as a circle and they run continuously, we’re constantly clearing, we’re constantly holding and constantly building.”

Marines established new strong point positions and began conducting security and census patrols through the villages in order to determine the make-up of the civilian population living in and moving back to the district - the leaders, the workers, the ones who don’t belong, etc.

However, no one is waving the victory flag just yet and the Marines now fight complacency with the same vigor once reserved for enemy forces.

As insurgencies go, they realize that they can’t stand toe-to-toe against a conventional fighting force and win, so they adapt. That adaptation manifests in asymmetric attacks such as Improvised Explosive Devices and suicide bombs, attacks which are indiscriminate in what they kill.

“Insurgents are highly adaptive organisms that must not be underestimated. They constantly change their tactics based on what they observe us doing” said Mahar.

Being able to identify the insurgents who hide amongst the local populace is the challenging part of the asymmetric fight. In this type of warfare the population is the ‘key terrain’ and actions must focus on gaining the trust and confidence of the people so that they help identify the enemy – this takes away the enemy’s safe haven.

“The key to holding any area is the elimination of safe havens. Eliminating their ability to have a place where everybody can work, meet, plan and prepare unopposed is very important to their defeat. The insurgents must be denied the ability to establish these new locations but not at the expense of leaving what has already been cleared,” said Petronzio.

Eating the elephant one bite at a time

Stability in the area leads not only to the return of people who had previously been exiled to the outskirts of the desert by insurgents, but also to a series of events marking the beginning of Garmsir’s reconstruction.

“You can be very lethal, and non-kinetic,” Petronzio said. “An insurgency’s strength is drawn from the populace it can either coerce or convince to go with them. If I can separate that populace for all the right reasons from that insurgency, non-kinetically, that’s still very lethal to that insurgency.”

On June 5th, Garmsir held its first shura in nearly three years – with not only village elders, but the district governor and chief of police in attendance.

“The shura is an integral part of Afghan governance. This was a major milestone for them to have this meeting since the insurgents infiltrated the area more than two years ago,” said CWO2 Rene Cote, civil affairs officer, 24th MEU, ISAF.

Two weeks later, Marines, in conjunction with British forces of Task Force Helmand, opened a Joint Civil Military Operations Center in the region. Here, the citizens of Garmsir meet to discuss future plans while also collecting compensation for losses of personal property they sustained during the fighting. The CMOC will soon have its 1000th visitor and to date has paid approximately 20.8 million Afghani to help citizens to reconstruct their compounds and replace property damaged in battle.

With insurgents no longer lurking in the shadows and controlling all transactions, business has returned to the area in the district center bazaar. In less than a month more than 70 shops opened, peddling everything from produce and livestock to prepackaged items found on the shelves of most convenience stores. On the heels of the bazaar the community members of Garmsir organized their own flea market with approximately 350 people attending to buy, sell and trade various items.

“It shows that people feel safe enough in their own community to come back out,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. John Garth, civil affairs chief, 24th MEU, ISAF. “A feeling that is shared by more than Sunday shoppers, you see a lot more of them on the side of the road, more people out playing in the canal,” said.

One merchant, speaking to Garth, gave one reason for the bolstered confidence of the locals.

“Before, everything was bad,” an interpreter relayed. “Since you guys got here the Taliban are not here.”

Also returning to an operational status is the Garmsir District hospital, treating almost 100 patients a day.

British forces, who will eventually resume full responsibility for the regions’ security with Afghan National forces, are planning to refurbish the hospital with work due to start in August, said Louise Perrotta, Garmsir Stabilization Advisor. “This should enable the hospital to attract more staff and to provide a more comprehensive service. The people are delighted to have any healthcare in the district.”

“It’s great how quickly the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has responded along with various aid organizations. But we have to maintain a measured approach. This place needs to be better for us having been there, but we can’t define what better is. The citizens of Garmsir will do that and we need to listen,” said Petronzio.

Free welcome-home signs available

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jul 21, 2008 7:11:48 EDT

If a homecoming celebration is in the works for your returning service member, you’d better get in on the rush to order a free banner from Buildasign.com.

To continue reading:


Clearlake Marine dies in Afghanistan

CLEARLAKE – A young Clearlake Marine died Monday after being wounded in combat in Afghanistan, becoming Lake County's first military casualty of the war in the Middle East.


Written by Elizabeth Larson
Monday, 21 July 2008

PFC Ivan Wilson, 22, was fatally wounded by an improvised explosive device while serving in combat operations as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Ginny Craven, founder of Operation Tango Mike and a friend of the family, confirmed Wilson's death. She said the US Marine Corps notified Wilson's mother, Denise Wilson of Clearlake, shortly after 5 a.m. Monday.

Military officials did not release additional details to Lake County News on Monday about the circumstances surrounding Wilson's death.

However, he may have been the same unnamed soldier who the Associated Press reported died Monday after being wounded over the weekend by a roadside bomb in the Helmand provide.

Located in southern Afghanistan, Helmand province is where the Taliban insurgency has proved the strongest, according to the Associated Press.

Lake County Veterans Services Officer Jim Brown said Wilson has the tragic distinction of being the first soldier from Lake County to die in the current Middle Eastern military operations.

However, Wilson's isn't the first death associated with the war to strike close to home. In April 2005, peace activist and Lakeport native Marla Ruzicka and her Iraqi translator, Faiz Ali Alim, were killed by a suicide car bomber in Baghdad.

Wilson was on his second tour of duty in the Middle East. He had served in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom from Jan. 29 to Aug. 25, 2007.

“This is definitely close to the heart of all of us,” said Craven, explaining that Wilson had had a chance to visit with community members during visits home, so he had become well-known.

A 2004 graduate of Clearlake Community School, Wilson enlisted in the US Marine Corps on Sept. 11, 2005. He was a rifleman with the Third Platoon, Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Division, Fox Company.

Wilson's death comes at a time of escalating violence in Afghanistan, where 559 US soldiers have died in the past seven years and thousands more Afghan civilians have perished.

The Web site icasualties.org, which tracks deaths in war zones, reported Monday that June was the deadliest month for coalition military personnel since military operations began in Afghanistan in 2001, with 45 deaths, compared to 31 in Iraq.

So far this month there have been 24 deaths in Afghanistan, and 22 in Iraq, according to the group's statistics.

Last September, at an Operation Tango Mike packing party, Supervisor Rob Brown presented Denise Wilson with a proclamation congratulating and thanking the Marine for his service in Iraq.

Brown said that the Board of Supervisors will hold a moment of silence in memory of Ivan Wilson at the Tuesday board meeting.

In addition to his mother, father and grandparents, Wilson is survived by siblings Nathan and Jackie, and members of the local veterans community, Craven said.

The family said through Craven that they'll have more information about services shortly.

Craven said the family needs time to cope with the tragedy and asks that their privacy be respected at this time.

Community members and friends may send cards and letters to Denise Wilson, PO Box 1624, Lower Lake, CA 95457.

Lake County man dies in Afghanistan

CLEARLAKE -- Our nation's war on terrorism has struck home. A devastating call was received by a mother in the community early Monday morning informing her that her son was killed in Afghanistan.


By Denise Rockenstein--Staff reporter
Article Last Updated: 07/21/2008 10:24:37 PM PDT

United States Marine Corps PFC Ivan Wilson, of Clearlake, was killed in action Monday by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). He was serving combat operations in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Wilson was engaged in his second tour of duty having also served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The soldier's mother, Denise Wilson of Lower Lake, was informed of her son's death early Monday morning, according to an information bulletin issued by Ginny Craven of Operation Tango Mike.

"It's not the kind of call you'd ever want to get," Craven said, relaying an expression of the mother's obvious devastation and request for privacy. "I think the family is arriving this morning and there are Marines still with her right now."

Operation Tango Mike works in support of men and women serving the country in the present war in the Middle East. The organization sends care packages to the troops to help relieve the burden of service and provide them with the knowledge that their service is appreciated.

Members of Operation Tango Mike will be gathering this Thursday to prepare the next shipment of care packages. Craven invites members to bring expressions of sympathy for the Wilson family to the meeting if they so wish. On the family's behalf, she also requests that the community respects the Wilson family's request for privacy and allow them the time they need to mourn their loss.

Anyone who wishes to convey their sympathy may send cards or letters by U.S. Mail to Denise Wilson, P.O. Box 1624, Lower Lake, Calif. 95457.

15th MEU Weapons Company 2/5 Conducts Sustainment Training in Kuwait

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait (NNS) -- Marines and Sailors with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), honed their infantry skills in the sands of Kuwait from June 24-July 9.


Story Number: NNS080721-10
Release Date: 7/21/2008 4:45:00 PM

By Cpl. Stephen Holt, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit Public Affairs

For the past two months, they were embarked aboard USS Peleliu (LHA 5) and USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), but came ashore to Kuwait in late June to conduct sustainment training.

The Kuwait sustainment training package provided Weapons Company with open desert space for driving and shooting, explained 1st Lt. Matthew Lampert, light armored vehicle platoon commander.

"Before we got off the ship we started planning. We want to use the desert environment to our advantage by doing a lot of long-range shooting and long-range driving," said Lampert, a native of Big Sky, Mont.

One of the main objectives for the company included practicing driving skills in the wide-open spaces of Kuwait's desert.

"It's great out here because the terrain and open desert allows us to maneuver freely and set up vehicle formations and to exercise vehicle tactics," said Sgt. Eduardo Chaidez, light armored vehicle crewman. "While training back in the States you only get a few square kilometers to train in, but out here we can get a few hundred square kilometers to work with."

Few places in the United States mirror the conditions and environment of a Middle Eastern desert, explained Chaidez, native of Sylmar, Calif.

Back at Camp Pendleton the terrain is very different and is filled with vegetation and hills. At Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. the environment is rocky.

A second key advantage to training in Kuwait's vast spaces is the flexibility to conduct training that is normally not permitted at Camp Pendleton. Marines were able to shoot using a simulated street curb as cover and shooting while lying on their backs. This type of flexibility added a lot of value to the training the Marines were getting, explained Sgt. Mike E. Ray, a section leader with Combined Anti-Armor Team 1.

"Being out here, we had a lot of flexibility for what we could do with the Marines," said Ray. "We were able to do things like shoot using a simulated street curb for cover and shooting lying directly on our backs, which is typically something we can't do back in the States."

It's nice to get here and build our own training packages that can hone skills to the specifications we feel are important. This allows us to identify weaknesses and deficiencies and build courses to help correct them."

Because there are fewer units training in Kuwait than in the United States, weapons company has more time to address shortcomings rather than rush off the range to make way for another unit, explained Ray.

"It's great to get these younger Marines out here to see camels, actual Arabic writing and people who live in the Middle East," added Ray.

For the younger Marines who have never deployed, the realism of training in Kuwait helped build their combat mindset.

"I can't get over how hot it is, but I feel that if I were called to Iraq in the future, I'd feel a lot more comfortable going because I've spent time in the Middle East and feel that I know more of what to expect," said Xiang, a 19-year old native of San Francisco.

The Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 15th MEU is comprised of approximately 2,200 Marines and Sailors and is a forward deployed force of readiness capable of conducting numerous operations, such as non-combatant evacuation operations, humanitarian assistance operations and a wide range of amphibious missions.

Officer with 24th MEU dies in Afghanistan

WOODLYN, N.J. — When 1st Lt. Jason Mann joined the Marines 11 years ago, his mom, Alfina, was nervous.

To continue reading about Fallen Hero, 1st Lt. Jason Mann, of the 1/6:


July 20, 2008

Minnesota Legionnaire leads GPS donation effort for troops

Up near Saint Cloud, Minn., Ed Meyer is busy helping our troops find their way around Iraq. Hmm. He must be using gigantic semaphore flags, right?


Actually, Meyer is equipping soldiers headed to Iraq with their own global positioning system (GPS) receivers. They come in mighty handy when you're on patrol and don't know the local language. GPS is a navigation/location system that works off 32 satellites orbiting the Earth. They transmit signals that give GPS users their exact locations - even altitudes. It only takes a few seconds to get the info, and it's usually accurate within a meter or so.

Meyer says he's received plenty of help from fellow Legionnaires at Post 621 in St. Augusta. In turn, they're also getting support from other Legion posts and community organizations - even a Lions Club as far away as Donna, Texas. Plenty of inquiries are coming in to Meyer about his "GPS Technology Aids Troops" project.

"Some of these people have sons and daughters serving in Iraq," Meyer says. "The soldiers who go over there do not have their own GPS receivers. They can't read any of the road signs, which are often wrong." Thus, troops have to depend on military GPS units that are often carried in Humvees and other vehicles.

He tells a story about how one lead vehicle in a Baghdad convoy took a wrong turn, using a standard-issue GPS. Sgt. Gaylan Heacock was in that convoy, carrying his Ed Meyer-issued GPS. It turned out the convoy was headed into a very dangerous sector. The officer in charge turned to Heacock and shouted, "Use your GPS and get us out of here!" They did.

An Army veteran, Meyer is a retired professor from Saint Cloud State University. He was working part-time at the local Gander Mountain sporting-goods store when a former student called him up; he was deploying with his Minnesota National Guard unit to Iraq and wanted some advice on what kind of GPS receiver to buy. Meyer talked it over with his store manager, then bought three GPS units.

Just before Christmas 2006, Meyer got together with three soldiers and their company commander and taught his first seminar on how to use the GPS. After that, word started to spread about helping keep America's warriors safe by giving them their own GPS receivers. Meyer remembers a Korean War veteran who attended one of his seminars. "He teared up right there during the session," Meyer says. "He wondered how many lives might have been saved from ‘friendly fire' in Korea if GPS receivers had been around."

So far, St. Augusta Legionnaires have donated about 60 GPS receivers to soldiers - mostly Minnesota Guardsmen - heading for Iraq or Afghanistan. The precious, life-saving devices are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each GPS receiver costs about $160, including a data chip for Middle East geography. Post 621 is providing most of the funding for purchases but needs more sponsors.

"We want more Legion posts and other groups to get involved and raise funds for this project," Meyer says. "We've got soldiers over there driving around with wounded buddies, getting lost in the desert for a couple of hours. We need to get them more of these GPS units."

Send donations to the St. Augusta American Legion Women's Auxiliary, 1894 247th St., Saint Cloud, MN 56301, or call (320) 252-6693. To learn more about the "GPS Technology Aids Troops" project, and read testimonials about GPS receivers from troops who used them, click on the link below.

July 18, 2008

Awards branch releases criteria for Afghanistan, Iraq campaign medals

WASHINGTON — Marines who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq might need to update their record of personal decorations following newly published criteria for Long War campaign awards.


7/18/2008 By Lance Cpl. Bryan G. Carfrey, Division of Public Affairs

As published in the Marine Administrative Message 299/08, which was released in May, U.S. Forces Central Command has broken down operations in Afghanistan and Iraq into phases, and depending on the dates Marines were deployed there, they may rate more campaign stars for correlating medals.

“It’s a good thing to come out with something that can show multiple deployments,” said Master Sgt. Damian Moreno, a veteran of two tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and senior advisor to the sergeant major of the Marine Corps. “It matches up with what has been done in the past.”

There is currently no deadline for Marines to update their campaign stars as it is ongoing, said Sgt. Jonah Aycox, unit diary chief for Headquarters Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps, Arlington, Va. However, awards must be entered in a Marine's service record before the recipient can wear new medals or devices.

Active duty and selected Marine Corps reserve unit commanders are authorized to issue campaign stars to Marines who meet the criteria.

"The majority of our Marines have deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq, so the commanding officers and (administrative offices) have a large task ahead of them to ensure all Marines' records are properly updated," said Lee Freund, Headquarters Marine Corps military awards branch head in Quantico, Va.

Freund also said Marines who deployed in support of the Long War need to pay special attention to their time in country because they rate a campaign star for just spending 24 hours in one of the Afghanistan or Iraq phases.

"Marines should understand that the campaign stars weren't intended to reflect the number of deployments a Marine has made or the total amount of time the Marine spent in Iraq or Afghanistan," said Freund.

Military officials recognized that service members with multiple deployments wanted to have some visible recognition of each operation beyond the basic award of the Afghanistan Campaign Medal or the Iraq Campaign Medal, said Freund.

Therefore, the war in Afghanistan has been broken down into three phases and Iraq operations have been separated into four.

"This follows the same model as the engagement stars on the Korean Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Southwest Asia Service Medal," said Freund.

The Afghanistan and Iraq Campaign Medals were approved by Congress in 2005. Marines who earned the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal for deployments prior to May 1, 2005, may still elect to receive the Afghanistan or Iraq Campaign Medal in lieu of the expeditionary medal.

However, if a Marine decides to retain the expeditionary medal from their deployment, that time will not be counted toward determining the number of campaign stars for either campaign medal.

Receiving the campaign and expeditionary medal for the same deployment period in Afghanistan or Iraq would be duplicating the intended use of these awards and is prohibited under Department of Defense policy, said Freund.

Individuals can check Marine Online to see if their campaign stars have already been updated.

Afghanistan Phases:

Liberation of Afghanistan: Sept. 11, 2001 - Nov. 30, 2001

Consolidation I: Dec. 1, 2001- Sept. 30, 2006

Consolidation II: Oct. 1, 2006 - Present

Iraq Phases:

Liberation of Iraq: March 19, 2003 - May 1, 2003

Transition of Iraq: May 2, 2003 - June 28, 2004

Iraqi Governance: June 29, 2004 - Dec. 15, 2005

National Resolution: Dec. 16, 2005 – Present

July 17, 2008

Marines give new HBO series positive reviews

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jul 17, 2008 18:39:01 EDT

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Marine Corps, meet the Marine Corps.

To continue reading:


More US troops may go to Afghanistan this year

WASHINGTON - Pentagon leaders on Wednesday signaled a surge in U.S. forces in Afghanistan "sooner rather than later," a shift that could send some units there within weeks, as officials prepare to cut troop levels in Iraq.


By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 17, 1:23 AM ET

Senior military officials are looking across the services to identify smaller units and other equipment that could be sent to Afghanistan, according to a defense official.

Although there are no brigade-sized units that can be deployed quickly into Afghanistan, military leaders believe they can find a number of smaller units such as aviation, engineering and surveillance troops that can be moved more swiftly, said the official, who requested anonymity because the discussions are private.

The moves are expected to happen within weeks rather than months, the official said.

The decisions are being made against the backdrop of shifting priorities for the U.S. military, and were discussed during a meeting Wednesday of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Military leaders are weighing requests from commanders in Afghanistan for more troops, aircraft and other assistance. And they are trying to determine the right balance between the needs of the force in Iraq, versus troops in Afghanistan who are facing a Taliban resurgence.

To date, the fight in Afghanistan has taken a back seat to Iraq, which has been the strategic priority. While Iraq will remains the top goal, it now appears the military believes there should be a more urgent emphasis on Afghanistan than there has been.

Faced with an increasingly sophisticated insurgency, particularly along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that sending more troops would have a significant impact on the violence.

"I think that we are clearly working very hard to see if there are opportunities to send additional forces sooner rather than later," Gates told Pentagon reporters. But, he added that no final decisions or recommendations have been made.

His comments suggested an acceleration in what had been plans to shift forces there early next year. And they came as the political discourse on Afghanistan as a key military priority escalated on both Capitol Hill and the presidential campaign trail.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who recently returned from meetings with commanders in Afghanistan, said they clearly want more troops now.

"It's a tougher fight, it's a more complex fight, and they need more troops to have the long-term impact that we all want to have there," said Mullen, who also met last week with Pakistani leaders.

The Pentagon has been wrestling with how to provide what they say is a much needed military buildup in Afghanistan, while they still have 150,000 troops in Iraq. Gates and Mullen have repeatedly said they would have to reduce troop levels in Iraq before they could dedicate more forces to Afghanistan.

Mullen, who was in Iraq last week, told reporters that he is likely to recommend further troop reductions there this fall. He said he found that conditions in Iraq had improved more than he expected.

"I won't go so far as to say that progress in Iraq from a military perspective has reached a tipping point or is irreversible — it has not, and it is not," Mullen told a Pentagon press conference.

"But security is unquestionably and remarkably better. Indeed, if these trends continue I expect to be able early this fall to recommend to the secretary and the president further troop reductions," he said.

The military buildup in Iraq that began more than 18 months ago has ended, now that the last of the five additional combat brigades sent in by President Bush last year has left the country.

Its departure marks the end of what the Pentagon called the "surge." And it starts the 45-day evaluation period that Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Congress he would need to assess the security situation and determine how many more troops he could send home.

Neither Gates nor Mullen would detail how they intend to juggle the military requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they spoke more aggressively about meeting Afghan needs more quickly.

Gates said commanders are looking at moving forces around to take advantage of a small boost in French troops expected in Afghanistan. But he ruled out rolling back some of the promises the Pentagon made to soldiers limiting their deployments to 12 months.

"I think we're looking at a variety of options on how to respond here," Gates said. "I will tell you that I have sought assurances that there will be no return to longer-than-12-month deployments, so that's not something we're considering."

Also, he said he is not aware of any plans to extend the deployments of any U.S. troops currently there.

Gates and Mullen also has strong words for Pakistan, saying Islamabad must do a better job preventing Taliban and other insurgents from crossing the border into Afghanistan to wage attacks.

The absence of pressure from the Pakistanis, Gates said, is giving militants a greater opportunity to penetrate the porous mountain border. He said the key is to further convince the Pakistani government that their country is also at great risk from the insurgents.

Gates said it is an exaggeration to say that the border problems have escalated into a war between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And he also dismissed as untrue suggestions that the U.S. is massing troops along the border preparing to launch attacks into Pakistan.

His comments came as U.S. troops abandoned a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan where militants killed nine of their comrades this week in a large, coordinated attack. Elsewhere in the frontier region, NATO launched artillery and helicopter strikes in Pakistan after coming under insurgent rocket fire, officials said.

There are currently 36,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 17,500 with the NATO-led force, and 18,500 who are fighting insurgents and training Afghan forces.

July 16, 2008

Kentucky Fried Chicken sizzles in Fallujah

FALLUJAH, Iraq — FALLUJAH, Iraq (July 16, 2008) –Only a short time ago the city of Fallujah served as stronghold for insurgents. Daily skirmishes, improvised explosive device detonations and public unease made operating a business in the city very difficult.


7/16/2008 By Cpl. Chris T. Mann, Regimental Combat Team 1

Today, with improved security throughout the region, the low price of 4,000 dinar, or $3.50, will purchase a full meal at the recently established Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Hey Al Dubat area of the city.

The KFC is the first to open for business in the city. Before improved conditions in the city, insurgents threatened business owners, demanding money to support acts of terrorism.

After a quick visit to the Fallujah Business Center during routine operations July 16, Marines with Regimental Combat Team 1’s Security Platoon and with Information Operations, talked with employees at the franchise to evaluate its success.

“We stopped to check up on the KFC to see how things were going,” said 1st Lt. Michael C. Bryant, platoon commander with Battery M, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, RCT 1. ”You can tell that the area is returning to normal, especially when you see fast food places in the area doing so well.”

The restaurant has several employees, and three that work full time. Employees there serve an average 25 customers per day.

The Marines often take time to assess economic progress and gauge community activities during missions in the city.

After several short conversations with employees and patrons, the Marines ordered food to take back to Camp Fallujah for lunch.

“I think it is awesome to see a business doing so well in Fallujah, and not have to worry about safety or corruption,” said Bryant, a 25-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo.

Security over the past several years has reached an all-time high in Fallujah and many of the surrounding areas. The increase can be accredited to Coalition forces conducting patrols and security missions, as well as Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army retaking control of a majority of the Anbar region.

“I remember when I was here last in July 2004 and things were much different than they are now,” said Sgt. Steve J. Arnoux, a 25-year-old vehicle commander from Browning, Mont. “When we would go out on convoys in the city, the attitude was a lot different. It seemed like we were just waiting to get ambushed. Now we stop at KFC.”

Citizens of the area can now work steady jobs, where as prior conditions kept many from even coming to work on a daily basis.

“I love the work here, because we have the opportunity to go to work every day,” said a KFC employee.

July 15, 2008

Corporal earns Bronze Star in desert ambush

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jul 15, 2008 12:34:20 EDT

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Few of these men had ever seen real shoot-and-kill combat.

To continue reading:


3/6 sentries — all guards, no glory

FALLUJAH, Iraq — On the outer perimeter of Camp Baharia there are vigilant eyes and ears that never rest — Marine sentries manning guard towers alertly in their desolate surroundings with miles of open desert and roadways in the distance.


7/8/2008 By Cpl. Chris Lyttle, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines

Working as a sentry on Guard Force may seem tedious and uneventful to some, but it’s arguably one of the most important jobs in terms of securing a military compound.

Cpl. Luke J. Weber, a sentry with Guard Force, Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, walks his post and patrols with other Marines several hours each day. He described how sentries frequently change assignments to master multiple jobs and avoid combat complacency.

“The majority of the day I stand post, but we alternate people around different posts so we don’t get complacent,” said Weber, a native of Austin, Texas. “We keep a lookout over the area and watch for even the littlest things.”

Weber, an avionics technician by military occupational specialty, said he remembers his deployment last year when terrorist activity was reported almost daily. Now that Iraqi Police are filling the security role in Fallujah and the level of violence has decreased, sentries must ensure they do not become idle, he said.

“The fact that there is less violence makes it harder not to be complacent,” Weber said. “That’s why we have to stay on our toes. If something were to happen, we have to be ready and expect it. Stuff doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to, but we still have to look at everything as a potential threat.”

Lance Cpl. Michael Smith, originally a mortarman with the battalion, stood out on post with Weber on what they described as one of the quieter days. The only thing that breaks the total silence around their post is walking, reporting to each other or radio traffic. Smith said any activity seems to make the shifts go by faster, but the days of their deployment often feel like they blend together.

“Time passes by faster when there’s a lot of military traffic passing through,” said Smith, a native of Coatsville, Pa. “When there’s nothing going on, we always find a way to keep ourselves occupied. Plus we have to stay in the mindset that something could always be out there.”

Smith and Weber said there have been a few incidents when the battalion has sent quick reaction forces out to investigate suspicious activities, but on this deployment, no major incidents have occurred.

Smith described only a few minor incidents during their deployment when people accidentally approached their post.

“Actually, we’ve had a couple of people (Iraqi local nationals) come down here and they couldn’t read, so they (weren’t aware of the rules),” he said. “I actually saw one guy park his car and try to walk up here. He kept saying, ‘Meeting meeting, Fallujah,’ so apparently he had to get to a meeting. We always get them turned away before anything happens.”

Minor situations like this could be something to be thankful for, but sentries must stand post with the mindset that today could be the day an enemy wants to attack. While terrorist activity has reached a lull without the opportunity and perceived glory of combat action, the significance of the sentries’ duty still remains.

“There’s not a lot of glory, that’s true,” Weber said. “But people have to understand it’s one of the most important jobs because everyone inside is relying on us to keep them safe. The (senior Marines) tell us that all of the time. It’s not the most glamorous job, but it’s definitely important.”

July 13, 2008

Garmsir bazaar back in business

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The sound of children playing and merchants price haggling fills the bustling Garmsir district bazaar, a stark contrast from what was here two months ago.


7/13/2008 By Cpl. Randall A. Clinton, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

When Marines rolled though 70 days ago, the city center looked more like a ghost town than a place of commerce., but with insurgents no longer lurking in the shadows, shop keepers returned; eager to conduct business.

As of July 11, approximately 70 stores are now open, providing goods ranging from food and convenience store items to livestock auctions with cows, hundreds of sheep and goats and other animals for sale or trade, for more than 600 people daily.

Prior to the more than 1,000 plus combat-trained Marines operating in the southern province, the town’s main marketplace was an unscrupulous locale paid for and controlled by insurgents, said Master Gunnery Sgt. John Garth, civil affairs chief, 24th MEU, ISAF. “A lot of people didn’t want to go to it because of the (insurgents’) presence,” he said.

Today the Marines of Alpha Battery, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, ISAF toured the line of stores, and amid the normalcy of the shopping they could put the scene in context.

Sgt. Zachary Thompson, radio operator, Alpha Battery, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF, drove through the site of the newly opened bazaar a month prior.

“Desolate,” he explained. “There were no civilians at all.”

With that in mind, there is nothing ordinary about the city’s return to normalcy.

“It shows that people feel safe enough in their own community to come back out,” he said, a feeling that is shared by more than Sunday shoppers. “You see a lot more of them on the side of the road, more people out playing in the canal.”

One merchant, speaking to Garth, gave one reason for the bolstered confidence of the locals.

“Before, everything was bad,” an interpreter relayed. “Since you guys got here the Taliban are not here.”

As the Marines made their way through the bazaar an ordinary Afghan National Police pick-up truck approached the patrol, but much like the shopping center, complexities are in the details. A gray-haired, uniformed policeman exited the vehicle and greeted the patrol; he was the police chief. With a confident stride he made his way to the center of the formation walking shoulder to shoulder with the heavily armed Marines.

The Marines don’t mind such displays, they aren’t here for the credit, but they do take pride in the city’s success due to their provided security. The bullet-hole riddled bazaar is now one of the busiest shopping areas in southern Helmand and is the largest in the Marine controlled area, said Garth.

Helping stimulate local economy, creating positive economic impact for the region, is one of many steps in the rebuilding process for the Garmsir district which include respiration payments for damaged property, digging wells, improving irrigation, and improving infrastructure.

The 24th MEU will perform these tasks in conjunction with ISAF and Afghan National Army and Police forces until the end of their deployment.

CBRN Marine provides double threat

HIT, Iraq — Cpl. Jeremy M. Wright is a Marine who looks forward to pressure situations.


7/13/2008 By Cpl. Erik Villagran, Regimental Combat Team 5

Wright, a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear defense specialist for 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, is a watch noncommissioned officer in the battalion’s Combat Operation Center when he’s not performing his primary military occupational specialty. While he works in the COC, he anticipates the day that he may be called to check an area for any chemical threats.

“When I work in the COC, I monitor all the missions and movements of units throughout the battalion’s area of operations,” Wright said. “I also coordinate with the company level COCs.”

Wright, 24, from Cartersville, Ga., understands the importance of being a watch NCO, but doesn’t think it compares to his CBRN job.

“I enjoy doing CBRN work,” Wright said. “I chose to be in a job not a lot of people get to do.”

When Wright is tasked to investigate an area, he takes all the necessary precautions to ensure everything runs smoothly. Before proceeding to the objective, he gives a quick class to ensure the Marines participating in the mission have properly functioning masks and are in the right state of mind.

“I want them to understand that once we’re in a hot zone, chemicals are present in the air,” Wright said. “If they don’t take appropriate precautions there are going to be severe consequences.”

In his first deployment, Wright says he has enjoyed being the Marine who is called to enter the hot zone when a suspected hazard is found. Though the battalion hasn’t had any actual chemical threats here, Wright continues to keep his skills sharp in the event that a real threat occurs by going on operations and conducting random tests.

“When I get there, I determine the proper mission oriented protective posture level,” Wright said. “I go to the site and begin testing the suspected substance.”

Wright can use a variety of machines to figure out what a substance is. The instrument he uses depends on the intelligence he has before he enters a site. He carefully collects a sample of the suspected substance and works to identify it. The process can take a few minutes or hours depending on the situation and how fast he identifies a threat.

Although many people get nervous when they think of a chemical attack, Wright feels right at home.

“This is the best MOS in the Marine Corps,” Wright said. “I wouldn’t want to do any other job.”

July 12, 2008

Donated GPS units give directions to Minnesota troops

It wasn't exactly Christmas in July, but for five members of the Minnesota National Guard who ripped open their presents -- it was even better.


July 12, 2008
By Boyd Huppert

The troops from Camp Ripley - soon departing for Iraq - are the latest recipients of GPS units being given to them by the St. Augusta American Legion Auxiliary.

It all started with Legion member Ed Meyer. The retired high school shop teacher does GPS training part-time for outdoor retailer Gander Mountain. Ed was approached two-and-a-half years ago by a former student seeking a GPS unit before his deployment to Iraq.

Months later that same student shared in an e-mail how his GPS had saved the soldiers in a 24 vehicle convoy.

"We were in a very bad part of Baghdad and needed to get out of their fast," Ed read from the e-mail. "Our convoy commander screamed ? and said 'do you have this on your GPS.' I answered, 'yes,' and directed them back out of the there." Ed chocked up as he finished reading the soldier's e-mail. "What I'm trying to say is everybody in the convoy owes you a big thank you. I was scared to death." Ed was so moved by the e-mail that he made it his mission to get GPS units into the hands of every Minnesota soldier who requests one.

"Somebody has to do this, and nobody's doing it," he says.

With fundraising help from the St. Augusta's American Legion Auxiliary, Ed has now presented 60 of the $160 GPS units to departing troops and personally provided GPS training.

"You get lost over there, what do you do?" Ed asks. "You can't read the signs. You can't ask for help."

Ed has set up a website, gpsfortroops.org , hoping other American Legion post will also adopt his idea. In the meantime he continues to seek donations for his own efforts. "When I see these people and get the e-mails back from people using them over there I say we got to keep doing it until everybody that wants one over there should have one. That's my goal."

A goal set... a man determined to find a way.

Scarcity of linguists makes it hard to wage war

Can U.S. be a skillful interventionist with scant supply of foreign speakers?

WASHINGTON - The United States military has a strategic shortfall — not of bullets or ballistic missiles, but of soldiers and Marines fluent in Dari, Pashto, Uzbek, and Turkmen — the languages spoken in Afghanistan.


By Tom Curry
National affairs writer
updated 8:52 p.m. CT, Sat., July. 12, 2008

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress sent U.S. troops to Afghanistan to fight al-Qaida forces.

But after seven years on the ground, military leaders are still short of soldiers and Marines who can speak and understand the local lingo.

In movies about World War II, there's often one soldier — for instance, the French-speaking Cajun from Louisiana — who could converse with French villagers in Normandy.

But in the real world of 2008, things are a bit more complicated.

How can the United States be a successful interventionist nation without an adequate supply of people fluent enough to interrogate the locals — not just in Afghanistan — but around the world?

Where will future crises erupt?

It’s not just Pashto and Dari in Afghanistan, but Javanese and Indonesian, or Kazakh, should trouble erupt in that oil-and-uranium-rich nation.

If today’s problem is the Dari deficit, what about five or ten years from now?

How can the Pentagon train soldiers and Marines to be proficient in critical languages if no one knows for certain where the crisis will be, in say, 2012?

The Defense Department might invest money in training a cadre of people in Farsi or Kazakh, only to find that it may not need them in five years, instead finding themselves short of Javanese and Indonesian speakers.

Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on Oversight and Investigations, convened a hearing Wednesday to draw attention to this language dilemma.

Snyder said that a monetary language proficiency bonus is paid to 17,000 military service members, which sounds like a lot, until you realize that it only amounts to one percent of the Defense Department’s 1.3 million personnel.

And a significant number of the linguistically proficient, Snyder said, are senior officers involved in intelligence work — not soldiers and Marines walking into Afghan villages.

A Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, Snyder said he didn’t learn Vietnamese before his tour of duty.

Language in boot camp

But he has an idea to remedy the language scarcity: make language training a required part of boot camp for new soldiers and Marines.

“In the Marine Corps, every Marine is a rifleman and a big part of boot camp is learning to shoot,” Snyder said. “That’s just ingrained in you, and you know that’s important. Discipline is important, honor is important, shooting a rifle is important. If we think this (foreign language proficiency) is important, then why not have that be from the get-go, from day one?”

But training soldiers and Marines to more than a rudimentary level of a language is a long, expensive task — even to get them to “2 plus” on the military’s zero-to-five language proficiency scale.

At the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., “they’re spending 63 weeks in Arabic, five days a week, six hours a day, these kids are amazing. Sixty-three weeks — and only a portion of them can make it,” said Richard Brecht, head of the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language, who testified before Snyder’s committee Wednesday. “It’s real tough.”

The demands of irregular warfare

Retired Army officer Andrew Krepinevich, the head of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent policy research institute, said irregular warfare and counter-insurgency will demand larger numbers of U.S. foreign language speakers.

“You don’t need 100 percent of a unit to speak Pashto or Farsi — you go into an area with a platoon of 40 soldiers if a few of them speak the language you’re in pretty good shape,” he said.

Krepinevich told Snyder’s committee that he’d recently talked to one Army general who said, “Once we leave Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re not going to do this for another 30 years. The American people won’t stand for it” — but Krepinevich doesn’t necessarily believe that.

The trends, he said, point to “a disordered world.”

The inescapable demographic reality is that a huge percentage of the population in Africa, South America, and Asia is under age 15 — “a rising number of highly frustrated people” who live in countries with incompetent or corrupt governments, Krepinevich said.

These people often resort to violence and they may live in places with an impact on U.S. trade and prosperity.

“Irregular warfare is here to stay, it is a trend, I think it is going to increase in importance,” said Krepinevich

And this won’t be the traditional waging of war — blowing up bridges or dropping bombs on enemy troop concentrations — but policing, training, and patrolling.

It is possible to imagine a scenario in the next several years in which domestic political pressure in the United States builds for military intervention to stop mass killings in a particular place, such as Darfur.

The defense secretary might turn to the president and say, “We just don’t have sufficient number of people fluent in the local languages to be able conduct long-term stability operations.” For the non-interventionists in the United States, this might sound like good news.

With the U.S. military already over-stretched, irregular warfare will require choices. “We’re probably not going to place a high priority on being able to deploy in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Krepinevich. “There are places in the world where you say if this country fails, it is going to have a major effect on U.S. security or economic well being.”

Case in point: Nigeria, from which the United States imports more than 400,000 barrels of high-quality crude oil every year, nearly as much as it imports from Saudi Arabia. “You say, ‘That’s one area we’re going to have a hard time turning our back on,’” Krepinevich said.

Brecht told the committee that the language deficit can not be remedied only by training of those already in uniform.

In the long run, recruitment of foreign speakers depends on vastly improved language education starting in the nation’s primary schools, he pointed out.

Shortage of Chinese speakers

The military language deficit is part of a larger national shortfall. There are, for instance, few U.S. elected officials who speak Chinese.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is one of the only prominent American politicians fluent in Chinese. Huntsman worked as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan in the late 1970s and served as a trade official and ambassador to Singapore in the 1990s. On a trade mission to China last year he gave speeches in Chinese.

Relative to the size of state population, Utah has the highest number of students studying foreign languages of any state.

“German and French are great, but they’re a bit of an anachronism,” Huntsman said on a recent visit to Washington. “So we’ve done a bit of fortifying of the languages available in our schools. We struck up a relationship with Chinese Ministry of Education through the embassy here. We now have teachers from China dropped into some of our high schools who teach Chinese.”

Afghan border police on patrol with U.S. Marines

GARMSIR, Afghanistan, July 12 (Reuters) - "Do you know who these men are?" a U.S. Marine asks residents, gesturing to Afghan border police near the recently captured town of Garmsir. But the answer is always "no", no one has ever seen the force before.


The Afghan border police, accompanied by U.S. Marines, went out on patrol for the first time this week since Garmsir district centre was recaptured from Taliban control in April. No one knows or can remember the last time the border police were seen there.

A fighting force of some 2,200 U.S. Marines was deployed to Afghanistan earlier this year to make up for shortfalls in troops Washington failed to persuade other NATO allies to fill.

The Marines moved into Garmsir district in late April, taking up positions east of the river that cuts through the desert region, and in early May began a fierce fight to push Taliban militants west and south.

"This is the first integrated patrol today. It's just kind of a test one for both sides, so they can get to know us, we get to know them and they start to learn how we operate," said Lieutenant Marc Matzke.

Garmsir, at the southern end of the inhabited green strip along the Helmand River, had been a transit and logistics hub for Taliban fighters moving in from the south. Helmand is also the largest opium producing region in the world.

NEW GUYS ON THE BLOCK Government presence in the largely empty desert south of the district centre all the way to the Pakistan border some 80 km (50 miles) distant has always been either poor or non-existent, said Captain John Moder of the U.S. Marines.

His men's mission, he said, was to secure a perimeter around the town, which had been captured by the Taliban, and help the government establish its authority in the area. The long-term plan is to extend that perimeter, he said.

Although the district centre is now under control of U.S. Marines, there are still insurgents left in the surrounding areas, but Marines are not being engaged like before.

The Marines were sent to Garmsir as the more than 8,000 mainly British forces in Helmand, holding a string of bases to the north, did not have the numbers to take the town alone.

Since beginning the operation the U.S. Marines have killed more than 400 Taliban, the governor of Helmand said this week, a figure the U.S. military supports.

With the Marines due to leave in October the question had always been what would happen after they went. They had been intended as a mobile force to be replaced by other foreign and Afghan troops to hold the ground they had captured.

But so far due to the lack of either government or other foreign forces, the Marines have stayed in Garmsir, security experts said. Last week the U.S. government extended the Marines' tour of duty by 30 days till November.

The Marines are hoping visual patrols with Afghan border police witnessed this week will increase public confidence in the area as well as keep insurgents away from the district centre.

"You know, the locals, when they are asked questions like: who do you talk to when you have problems, who do you go to to have these problems fixed? They say, we go to our government; our officials," said Matzke.

But for the residents in Garmsir anybody who fixes their problem is the official. Two months ago it just happened that they were Taliban, he said.

"But now we are trying to show them that there are some new guys in town." (Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Jerry Norton)

July 11, 2008

Depot takes action in water conservation

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO — Last year was a historically dry year throughout the western United States. Because San Diego imports more than 85 percent of its water it is very important to conserve every precious drop.


7/11/2008 By Cpl. Carrie C. Ruiz, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

On January 1, farmers faced a mandatory reduction in water use to 70 percent of the amount used during the previous year to prevent another drought on the Colorado River. San Diego has also curtailed nonessential water deliveries and is now making a public call for voluntary conservation.

Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego has answered that call, and is now taking preventative measures to lessen the amount of water that is used on the depot.

The executive order for strengthening federal environmental, energy, and transportation management requires the water reduction of 2 percent per year through 2015.

“Facilities Maintenance is committed to achieving the mandated water reduction goals by implementing the best water management practices in all new construction, renovations and contracting,” said Richard Hatcher, engineering technician, facilities maintenance.

Hatcher said that the depot is now requiring the installation of ultra-low flow shower heads, low flow toilets and urinals and metered faucets on all projects.

Last fiscal year, the base used 275,731 gallons of water. To reduce the amount used, the base installed 10,000 sq. feet of synthetic turf in front of Building 31. By replacing that small amount of grass, the depot is estimated to save 357 gallons per year, Hatcher said.

Another 10,000 sq. feet of synthetic turf is scheduled to be installed at the depot’s Child Care Center later this month.

Hatcher said that another way the depot is taking action is by limiting the hours of irrigation systems operations from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Previously, the sprinklers ran until 10 a.m. In addition, all newly installed landscaping will be drought-tolerant plants. These heat- and drought-tolerant varieties can survive on natural rainfall.

According to www.h2ouse.org, watering the lawn between midnight and 6 a.m., reduces the amount of evaporation and therefore saves a substantial amount of water on landscaping.

Depot personnel can help with water conservation every day in their homes and at work. Hundreds of gallons of water can be saved a week by fixing leaky faucets, washing only full loads of laundry and dishes, shortening showers, and watering the lawn less often.

Iraqi recruit joins fight against terrorism

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO — As a child, Amed Kanan dreamed of serving in the Marine Corps. He wished to join the ranks of the uniformed men he saw doing good things in his community. When he told his friends about his dream of becoming a Marine, he was ridiculed, called a traitor, and told to do so would betray his country. How could serving in the Marines betray his country? The reason is because Amed Kanan grew up in Iraq.


7/11/2008 By Lance Cpl. Shawn Dickens, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

Kanan moved to America with his family when he was 10-years-old. Although his family now lives in Coon Rapids, Minn., Kanan remembers what it was like to grow up in Iraq.

"I lived in a mud house and slept on the ground," said Kanan. "We had no electricity, and if we were lucky enough to have electricity, it was only on for about four hours a day, if that."

Kanan compared what it was like to grow up in both Iraq and America.

Kanan explained that in Iraq, boys and girls are segregated; they go to different schools.

"The things you learn in school are different as well," said Kanan. "Here you learn about world history and other cultures; in Iraq you only learn Iraqi history, and you get your bachelors degree in high school. Unlike here, in America you go to college to get it."

Teens do not date in Iraq like they do here in America, said Kanan.

"By the age 15 or 16, young men are expected to get married and start their own families," he continued.

Kanan also mentioned that life is a lot more dangerous in Iraq.

He would hear gunfights outside and see dead bodies just lying on the street

Despite all that Kanan has seen and experienced in his young life, nothing could prepare him for the experience that he would receive at recruit training.

"Kanan thought that he made the wrong choice," said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Romer, senior drill instructor, Platoon 2130. "He had self-esteem issues and was shy; I didn’t think he was going to make it."

However, now that training is over, the drill instructors notice a difference in Kanan. According to Romer, Kanan seems to be much more confident with himself.

Even Kanan notices the changes that the Marine Corps has made in him.

"I had low self-esteem and didn’t really like taking orders, but now I stand taller as a man, and I am respectful to others," said Kanan. "It is all because of the drill instructors. If it was not for them pushing me passed my limits, I would not be where I am now. They helped me prove to myself I could do it.

"The Marines gave me a chance to do something with my life," said Kanan. "I look back and can tell I have changed, not just personality-wise, but physically as well. I’ve lost 40 pounds since I got here."

Kanan’s platoon mates have also noticed his transformation into a Marine.

"Kanan has lost a lot of weight," said Recruit Andrew Parks, fellow platoon mate, and friend. "He didn’t really talk much at first, but after a while he started telling me stories about growing up in Iraq."

During their time in recruit training, Parks learned a lot about his friend Kanan, who always went out of his way to help others.

"He helped me out a lot with everything," said Recruit Jose Coronado. "Actually he helps everyone; he is just a good person to be around."

Helping others is the main reason Kanan joined the Marine Corps.

"I joined so I could make a difference and so I could help my country—my countries actually," said Kanan. "The Marines have given me that chance. I wanted to accomplish something. I wanted to make a difference."

Kanan plans on using his language skills to help both of his countries and become a translator.

"America has given me a lot since my family and I moved here. Joining the Marines is just one of the ways I can give back," Kanan concluded.

Missing soldiers' bodies recovered in Iraq

Pentagon confirms the deaths of men who were seized in 2007 ambush

WASHINGTON - For more than a year, Gordon Dibler held out hope that his stepson, Army Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, would return home from Iraq. Then military officials delivered the grim news that the bodies of Fouty and another soldier captured in an ambush south of Baghdad had been found.


updated 2:51 p.m. CT, Fri., July. 11, 2008

"Every day that he's been missing has been a day of `what could have been' ... but after hearing the news ... I'm still in shock," Dibler said Thursday after military officials came to his Oxford home.

Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., and Army Sgt. Alex Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., were kidnapped in May 12, 2007, in the volatile area south of Baghdad known as the "triangle of death."

Jimenez's father, Ramon "Andy" Jimenez, said he also received a visit Thursday from military officials, who told him that his son's body had been found.

Confirming the families' accounts, the Defense Department said Friday that the remains were discovered Wednesday and identified a day later. The Pentagon generally waits 24 hours after notifying the next of kin before making a release public.

‘Shattered all hope’
The two bodies were found in the Iraqi village of Jurf as Sakhr. The body of a third captured soldier, Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif., had been found in the Euphrates River 11 days after the attack.

Speaking through a translator, the elder Jimenez said the news "shattered all hope" the family had to "see Alex walk home on his own."

Lawrence Veterans Services Director Francisco Urena, who was at the Jimenez home Thursday night and translated for the soldier's father, said the family was given no details on the discovery of the bodies or the nature of the soldiers' deaths.

The men were identified using dental records, Dibler said, adding that the bodies of both soldiers were taken to Dover, Del., where military officials are expected to perform further tests to determine a cause of death.

"It's a very sad relief," Dibler said. "But I know I have to go forward, not just for our family, but for the other men and women who are still doing their job over there."

He said he spent much of Thursday on the phone talking with family and friends, including Andy Jimenez. The soldiers' families had become friends over the past year, and Dibler said he always considered the two missing soldiers "our nation's sons."

"Byron went to Iraq to help people who couldn't help themselves," he said, adding that conditions there have since improved. "I know their sacrifice was not for nothing. It was not in vain."

‘A very sad relief’
Fouty was identified using dental records, Dibler said, adding that the bodies of both soldiers were taken to Dover, Del., where military officials are expected to perform further tests to positively identify both men and determine a cause of death.

“It’s a very sad relief,” he said. “But I know I have to go forward, not just for our family, but for the other men and women who are still doing their job over there.”

Urena said the Jimenez family expected to receive Alex Jimenez’s body in five days.

“He’s very thankful for everybody from the community in Lawrence and throughout the U.S. who have provided him support during the difficult time the family has been through during the past 14 months,” Urena said of Andy Jimenez.

Massachusetts state Rep. William Lantigua of Lawrence, who also was with Jimenez on Thursday evening, said the family had held out hope for a happy ending.

“That does not take away from the fact that he was doing what he wanted to do,” Lantigua said of Alex Jimenez. “We’ll just remember his life, and what a gentleman he was. The community will continue to support his family any way we can.”

Ambushed outside Baghdad
The three soldiers, from the Fort Drum, N.Y.-based 10th Mountain Division, disappeared May 12, 2007, after insurgents ambushed their combat team 20 miles outside Baghdad. An Iraqi soldier and four other Americans from the same unit were killed in the attack.

The soldiers were from Company D, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment — nicknamed the “Polar Bears.”

Jim Waring of the family support group New England Care for Our Military said he spoke to Jimenez’ and Fouty’s families Thursday night.

“It’s going to be tough on them,” he said. “They really had hoped they were alive.”

Waring said his group had a banner for the missing soldiers: “Together they serve our nation and together they will come home.”

“They did come home together, just not the way we wanted,” Waring said.

Chairman Commends Marines for Impact, New Mission

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, July 11, 2008 – The U.S. military’s top-ranking officer met today with U.S. Marines based just northwest of here who are charged with the “critical, top-priority mission” of training the Afghan National Police.


By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Infantry Regiment, at Camp Barber to encourage the Marines and remind them of the important role they’re playing in improving the country’s security.

“You represent a different mission than other units,” Mullen said to the Marines. “You’re really on the leading edge of the kind of change that’s going to continue with our presence here in Afghanistan.”

The unit is one of two recently deployed Marine battalions that arrived in Afghanistan in early April. The 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Infantry Regiment, based out of Kandahar is focused on counterinsurgency operations, while the 2-7th Marines’ mission primarily is training. Both are the first U.S. Marine battalions to deploy to Afghanistan since the initial phases of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Marine battalions are operating in the Regional Command South battle space and are conducting their missions in areas that, in the past, haven’t seen much U.S. and coalition force presence, Mullen said.

Because of the new force presence in the region, coupled with the freedom insurgents have to cross the Pakistani border into Afghanistan, attack levels and casualty numbers have gone up throughout the past months, he said. Since their arrival, more than 50 2-7th Marines have been wounded, and 10 have been killed. However, their unique mission under the difficult circumstance of heavy combat hasn’t deterred from their perspective and positive impact, the chairman said.

“I recognize the sacrifices you’ve made and the casualties you’ve taken,” he said. “This is not just a basic training mission. We’ve got to get these forces up on their feet, so they can begin taking care of themselves.”

Training the Afghan National Police isn’t, by any means, an easy task, the admiral noted. Unlike Afghan army troops, who are known for their focus and being led well by their commanders, the police have been known in the past for their corruption.

“With respect to the police, they have a history of corruption, and they’ve had challenges with this in every local area and district,” he said. “Up until now, they haven’t been trained very well, so we start with a significant deficit, and it’s going to take some time to catch up.

“The national police are significantly behind in police development and training and very much behind the [Afghan army],” he continued, “so what [2-7th Marines] are doing is a very critical, top priority mission in a very tough environment.”

Mullen added that there is no more critical mission in Afghanistan than training the national police. He said the Marines’ mission came about because of the growing requirement for police.

Although embedded police training teams made up of 10 to 20 U.S. servicemembers have been in place across Afghanistan and Iraq, the need to employ an entire battalion with the mission was a conscious decision made by U.S. military officials, Mullen noted.

The admiral commended the Marines for the impact they’ve made in the short period they’ve been here. Even with the recent spike in violence, the mission is well under way, he said, and the fact that the Marines have focused on training the police as well as taking the fight to insurgents has made them an extremely valuable asset, he said.

“[The Marines] are executing a vital, new changing mission, and they’re doing it at the highest possible standard,” he said. “I’m constantly inspired by their dedication and patriotism. Their ability to execute very tough missions in very austere environments continues to make a difference.”

July 9, 2008

Marine ends prisoner's escape

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (July 9, 2008) — A North Carolina based Marine was awarded a Navy Commendation Medal here July 9 for his actions in apprehending a prisoner who escaped from an Ozark County, Mo., courthouse June 10.


7/9/2008 By Cpl. Aaron Rooks, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

Cpl. Allen Orcutt of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, captured William A. Huelsenbeck of Ozark County, after he escaped from custody just before arraignment for felony charges of possession of a controlled substance, forgery and stealing.

Ozark County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Justin Riley initially witnessed the escape attempt and began to pursue the felon as he made his way out of the courthouse. He said Orcutt witnessed what was taking place and immediately began to chase down the convict.

Orcutt captured the prisoner one block away from the courthouse, and restrained him until members of the sheriff’s office caught up and took custody. Riley said Orcutt was the only person at the courthouse who took action when he called out for help.

“That type of fast, decisive thinking is something to be proud of,” Riley said. “Cpl. Orcutt is a shining example of the fine men and women of the United States Marine Corps. The help he provided was greatly appreciated.”

Thomas Cline, an Ozark County prosecuting attorney, said Huelsenbeck is set to appear in court July 9 for arraignment on the previous charges, with an additional charge of attempted escape. Cline said Huelsenbeck faces up to seven years in prison per charge, plus four years for attempted escape if convicted.

Cline said Orcutt’s engagement in this action was selfless and conducted without regard for his own safety. He said Orcutt asked for no recognition and appeared to treat his actions as something that just had to be done.

Orcutt said what he did was simply the right thing to do. He said one person called him crazy. He responded with, “I’m not crazy, I’m just a Marine.”

“There wasn’t a second of thought because there was no time for it,” Orcutt said of his actions. “If I had thought about it, he would’ve got away.”

Cline, who served with the Army Security Agency in the early 1970s, said Orcutt’s actions made him proud to see that the quality of U.S. service members is still so great.

“I am heartened to know that it is young men and women like (Orcutt) that are protecting and defending our freedom and rights.”

Misinformation clouds new GI Bill

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jul 9, 2008 17:09:46 EDT

Full-tuition educational benefits included in a new veterans’ program signed into law on June 30 will not take effect until Aug. 1, 2009, unless Congress approves a change in the new law.

To continue reading:


Akashat police take control

AKASHAT, Iraq — Another Iraqi Police station became an independent unit in Al Anbar province during a ceremony here July 9. During the ceremony, Marines with Delta Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd LAR Bn., Regimental Combat Team 5 passed responsibility of the city of Akashat to the IPs.


7/9/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

“When Iraq needed you most, you stood up,” said Lt. Col. Russell E. Smith, commanding officer, 2nd LAR Bn., while addressing the IP during the ceremony. “You are all true patriots of Iraq and should all be proud of yourselves for what you’ve achieved today.”

Smith also added that he is proud to stand beside the IP as friends and brothers-in-arms.

During the event, the city council of Akashat, Iraqi policemen and Marines witnessed Smith present a plaque to Maj. Fawzi Amad Khalifah, chief of the Akashat Police Department, certifying the passing of responsibility. Afterwards, the partnering forces feasted together in celebration of the accomplishment.

“It’s a proud and good feeling to have after achieving this from hard work,” said 1st Lt. Jamad Hamid, 31, a supervising officer with the Akashat Iraqi Police Department. “We will continue with that same effort to continue the good work without Coalition forces help.”

The Iraqi policemen had been trained by the Marines with Delta Co.’s Police Transition Team for the past few months. The station will operate without Coalition forces, but the Marines will remain vigilant to support them if needed.

According to the policemen assigned the station, they were very grateful for the hard work and training from Marines with Delta Co.

“The Marines taught the skills to protect the city of Akashat,” said Khalad Reyad Miciles, 26, a patrolman with the Akashat Police Department. “I will use those skills for the future.”

July 7, 2008

White Knights spread good will through bilateral training

AL JABER AIR BASE, Kuwait — The AV-8B Harrier detachment for Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is currently conducting a series of bilateral training exercises with their Kuwaiti counterparts as part of exercise Eager Mace 2008.


7/7/2008 By Staff Sgt. TG Kessler, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The bilateral training here is expected to last until mid-July. During that time the Marine pilots and the Kuwaiti Air Force hope to increase their proficiency and expertise by sharing valuable flying experience and knowledge.

According to Capt. James Vallario, the Weapons and Tactics instructor for the detachment, the Harriers are conducting training with three different F/A-18 Hornet squadrons of the Kuwaiti Air Force and have had the opportunity to fly against very dissimilar aircraft and experience the difference in tactics and flying skills.

“The training has been very successful when the weather is cooperating. When we are able to get out and fly with them it has been phenomenal training,” explained Vallario.

“(The Kuwaitis) are very receptive to what we have to say and want to learn—they were an occupied country once (during the first Gulf War) so they take us very seriously.”

Of the fundamentals being taught to the Kuwaiti Air Force pilots, the focus of the training weighs heavily on close air support, a Marine aviation specialty. Vallario, a 31 year-old native of San Francisco, explained throughout the training evolution, the Marines are running the Kuwaitis through the ins and outs of close air support supporting training missions currently underway by the 15th MEU.

“We’re trying to share our tactics, techniques and procedures for how we conduct close air support—something they’re not as experienced with—so we are spending time with them showing how difficult and how challenging it can be to put ordnance in close proximity to friendly troops,” explained Vallario.

“It’s something that a lot of people claim to do very well, but few people actually can. The (Marine Corps) is very good at conducting close air support so we’re trying to teach (the Kuwaitis) as much as we can.”

For Maj. Fahad Al Douseri, operations officer with Squadron 9 of the Kuwaiti Air Force, flying with the Marines has been a pleasure not only for the shared camaraderie but also for the chance to fly with experienced pilots.

A pilot since 1989 and flying the F/A Hornet since 1994, this is the third time he has had the opportunity to work with his American counterparts, sharing the knowledge and experience each force has to offer.

“I think these exercises standardize things and build a really close relationship with each other,” said Al Al Douseri. “I think we can accomplish any mission (together).”

Having worked with U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy pilots, Fahad and his pilots share a kindred spirit with the Marines, he said.

“It is a very nice exercise especially working with the Marines. Not that the U.S. Air Force or Navy are different but the Marines are similar to us and share the same thoughts as we do,” said Al Al Douseri.

Ultimately, Al Al Douseri hopes the opportunity to work with the Marines standardizes tactics between the two forces, further enhancing their ability to work together; and if the need arises, ensures success if the two nations ever work together in a real world situation.

“One day we might at any time perform missions together and we will be more than able to communicate, interact and really know each other,” he said.

“To work with the Americans, it’s a really great opportunity for us to lift up our spirits. Since the Marines are really experienced we are more than happy to work with them.”

The Camp Pendleton, Calif., based 15th MEU is currently in Kuwait conducting sustainment training.

Afghanistan tour extended for 24th MEU

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jul 7, 2008 10:29:29 EDT

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s deployment in Afghanistan has been extended an additional 30 days, despite repeated claims by Pentagon officials that the deployment would not extend beyond seven months.

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Marine receives Purple Heart, 63 years later

The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Jul 7, 2008 7:02:08 EDT

LONGVIEW, Wash. — After a 63-year wait, Lyle Chambers has received a Purple Heart for his heroism as a 19-year-old Marine private during the World War II South Pacific island battle of Peleliu.

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July 6, 2008

Marines museum gives a sense of service

WASHINGTON - Washington is a city of memorials to war heroes, but beyond the Beltway near Quantico Marine Base in Virginia is another tribute to brave Americans at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.


By Amy Orndorff
The Washington Post

The stunning building, interactive exhibits and cost (it's free!) rival anything that Washington has to offer.

The museum commands attention even from nearby Interstate 95. Its 210-foot spire replicates the 60-degree angle at which the U.S. flag was planted on Iwo Jima in World War II.

A good museum teaches patrons a bit about the past. A great museum immerses visitors in history so they truly understand its gravity. This is a great museum.

A good place to start, especially if you have kids, is the "Making Marines" exhibit. There is plenty to touch and interact with, including a booth in which a drill sergeant yells in your ear, a bar with instructions on how to do a proper pull-up and a heavy backpack to try on.

That is just prep. The rest of the tour proves that basic training is the easiest part of being a Marine.

The World War II exhibit helps visitors understand what landing on Iwo Jima was like. Visitors step into a small, dim room that resembles the hull of a ship. A commander explains the importance of the mission, and then a door opens onto a reproduction of a Higgins boat, ready to land on the Japanese island.

Original footage from Iwo Jima plays on a panoramic screen around the boat. Marines' voices can be heard reciting prayers, and then come the sounds of pings - bullets deflected against the metal of the ship.

Creating a sense of history is what the museum does best. Visitors to the Korean War displays look in on Marines on the American side of the 38th parallel as they camp in the cold. The room is chilly.

"In actuality, it was like 40 below zero," docent Jack Stewart explains.

In the Vietnam War section of the exhibit, you feel the sweltering heat and see enormous (stuffed) rats. A Marine is heard talking about his time in a claustrophobic Vietnamese solitary confinement box, just like the one on display.

Beyond the butterflies-in-your-stomach-inducing experiences, the museum includes a remarkable collection of artifacts, including the flags that were flown at Iwo Jima.

"This is the Marine Corps icon right here," Stewart says as he proudly gestures to one of the flags and the famous photo next to it.

With such an impressive museum, it looks like the Marines can add one more icon to that list.

Hollywood arrives at Akashat

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — A company of Marines, in one of the most secluded combat outposts in Iraq, had an unusual visit by a special group of entertainers from Hollywood, Calif..


7/6/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines with Delta Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Bn., Regimental Combat Team 5 were not greeted by unit leaders or fellow service members, but actors, actresses and models Jul. 6. The celebrities visited here and other bases around Iraq to provide service members with a special thank you.

Delta Co. is a reserve mechanized infantry unit attached to 2nd LAR operating in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“It was a chance of a lifetime to come and see the service members,” said Shamron M. Moore, a model who has appeared in several magazines. “They have done so much for our country. It’s a chance to give my love and appreciation by coming here.”

The Marines were also visited by four other celebrities: Steve Zahn, actor from films such as “Saving Silverman” and “National Security;” Carmit Bachar, former member of the music group The Pussycat Dolls; Tamie Sheffield, Victoria Secret model; and Camille Anderson, actress from the film “The Wedding Crashers.” The celebrities greeted and conversed with the company while taking pictures with them.

“It was a very pleasant surprise for them to come all this way to see us,” said Lance Cpl. M. Farroll Campbell, a scout with Delta Co. “Morale was definitely uplifted to talk to them.”

While the group was conversing with the Marines, they experienced the life of a service member in areas outside of the major bases. The entertainers enjoyed the time with the service members and also viewed it as a learning experience.

“It’s a dream of mine to come out here and see the guys,” said Zahn. “I get to hang out with the guys and three hours later I’m shooting a .50 caliber machine gun from a humvee.”

As the entertainers left, they provided a feeling of motivation in the back of the Marines’ minds as they approach the last half of their deployment. As the company continues its operations, it will know that a group of celebrities showed their appreciation by visiting them on their small combat outpost in western Anbar province.

“Seeing new faces at the mid-point of our deployment brought excitement amongst the Marines,” said Campbell, 22, from Catlett, Va. “[I think] it’s very different for them to come to a combat outpost as opposed to a larger base all the time. It now makes it easier to complete the final half of the deployment because they showed their appreciation for the Marines in the smaller posts.”

July 5, 2008

Marines act as paymasters to Afghans

In the wake of their offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province, the U.S. troops reimburse civilians for property damage.

GARMSER, AFGHANISTAN -- Gola Akar, a black-bearded farmer, did not seem certain whether a monthlong Marine assault here had improved or retarded his business prospects.


Photo Gallery:

By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 5, 2008

On the one hand, the Marines killed or drove out Taliban fighters who had commandeered his mud-wall compound. But the fighting came at the height of the poppy harvest, costing Akar thousands of dollars in drug profits.

"Since you came, things are better," Akar told 1st Lt. Shaun Miller, a slender, easygoing Marine who led a patrol past his compound one recent morning. "But who's going to pay me for my lost poppies?"

Miller told him the U.S. government wasn't in the habit of paying for lost narcotics profits. But Miller patiently wrote down the damage that Akar said the Marine assault had caused to his windows, roof and walls, and promised to pay cash compensation.

Throughout May, Marines pounded a Taliban stronghold here in the southern province of Helmand near where fellow Marines first set foot in Afghanistan in 2001 to help topple the Taliban regime. It was the first time in the 6 1/2 years of war since then that U.S. forces had reentered the area, which is crisscrossed by three major insurgent infiltration routes from Pakistan and is one of the world's top opium-producing regions.

British forces have maintained a base just north of here, but commanders say the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization have lacked sufficient forces to mount an offensive in the region, in part because of the U.S. focus on Iraq.

With the Taliban resurgent in the south, the Marines were deployed specifically to battle entrenched militants. Within a month, they routed the Taliban fighters and disrupted infiltration routes.

Now they are trying to win over Afghan civilians who are trickling back to their damaged homes.

Officers such as Miller are leading patrols through poppy and marijuana fields to assess farmers' losses. The Marines also have been forced into other unfamiliar roles -- as quasi-diplomats, humanitarian workers, moneymen and nurses.

"Not exactly what I signed up for," Miller said. Sometimes, he said, he felt like an insurance adjuster.

The Marines are the only source of security here. The weak Afghan government is nowhere in sight. The Afghan police fled a Taliban takeover two years ago. The nearest Afghan army unit is posted several miles north, with the British forces.

The Marines are rushing to solidify their combat gains while enlisting civilian support in behalf of the absent Afghan government. Time is precious.

The Marines, from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, were scheduled to return home to Camp Lejeune, N.C., this summer, but Thursday the Pentagon extended their stay by 30 days.

"The honeymoon's almost over," said Capt. Sean Dynan, commander of Alpha Company, which controls about 4 1/2 square miles of lush farmland that is home to 3,000 to 5,000 Afghans. "Pretty soon, it's going to be: What have you done for me lately?"

The Marines live in harsh conditions, sleeping on the ground amid goat droppings and flies.

The heat and dust are debilitating. There is precious little shade; they cluster under a small tree, changing positions as the sun moves across the sky.

The men wash in a communal well. They survive on bottled water and packaged meals, or MREs. There is no electricity, no plumbing. They burn their waste.

1st Lt. Steven Bechtel, an artillery officer, has set up a cash-dispensing office in a mud hut, receiving villagers who file claims for war damage.

"It's kind of ironic," Bechtel said. "A few weeks ago, we were blowing these places up. Now we're totaling up the damage and paying for it."

The payment center is in a compound that also houses company headquarters. The property is owned by the local police chief's nephew, who is paid about $65 a month in rent and was given a one-time damage payment of about $1,500.

British forces have maintained a base just north of here, but commanders say the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization have lacked sufficient forces to mount an offensive in the region, in part because of the U.S. focus on Iraq.

With the Taliban resurgent in the south, the Marines were deployed specifically to battle entrenched militants. Within a month, they routed the Taliban fighters and disrupted infiltration routes.

Now they are trying to win over Afghan civilians who are trickling back to their damaged homes.

Officers such as Miller are leading patrols through poppy and marijuana fields to assess farmers' losses. The Marines also have been forced into other unfamiliar roles -- as quasi-diplomats, humanitarian workers, moneymen and nurses.

"Not exactly what I signed up for," Miller said. Sometimes, he said, he felt like an insurance adjuster.

The Marines are the only source of security here. The weak Afghan government is nowhere in sight. The Afghan police fled a Taliban takeover two years ago. The nearest Afghan army unit is posted several miles north, with the British forces.

The Marines are rushing to solidify their combat gains while enlisting civilian support in behalf of the absent Afghan government. Time is precious.

The Marines, from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, were scheduled to return home to Camp Lejeune, N.C., this summer, but Thursday the Pentagon extended their stay by 30 days.

"The honeymoon's almost over," said Capt. Sean Dynan, commander of Alpha Company, which controls about 4 1/2 square miles of lush farmland that is home to 3,000 to 5,000 Afghans. "Pretty soon, it's going to be: What have you done for me lately?"

The Marines live in harsh conditions, sleeping on the ground amid goat droppings and flies.

The heat and dust are debilitating. There is precious little shade; they cluster under a small tree, changing positions as the sun moves across the sky.

The men wash in a communal well. They survive on bottled water and packaged meals, or MREs. There is no electricity, no plumbing. They burn their waste.

1st Lt. Steven Bechtel, an artillery officer, has set up a cash-dispensing office in a mud hut, receiving villagers who file claims for war damage.

"It's kind of ironic," Bechtel said. "A few weeks ago, we were blowing these places up. Now we're totaling up the damage and paying for it."

The payment center is in a compound that also houses company headquarters. The property is owned by the local police chief's nephew, who is paid about $65 a month in rent and was given a one-time damage payment of about $1,500.

Bechtel worked steadily through the punishing heat -- well above 100 degrees -- to process a stream of bedraggled people seeking reparations. A patrol was sent to each applicant's compound to photograph damage and record the property on military maps.

Bechtel said he had promised about $105,000 to 240 applicants.

But there was a hitch: Alpha Company didn't have any cash to make the payments. Because of new Pentagon regulations, the money was held up.

So Bechtel improvised. He tore yellow notebook paper into small slips and wrote down the names, locations and tribes, along with the amount of damages owed.

The applicants went home with the slips that committed the Marines to pay up once the money arrived.

Sher Zaman, a wizened man in a floppy gray turban, stared at his yellow slip in bewilderment. But he brightened when Sgt. James Blake, told him through an interpreter that he would receive $3,200 for his ruined roof and mattresses burned during the Marine assault.

The sergeant asked Zaman to report on any Taliban in his area. The old man shook his fist.

"You guys are good guys trying to help the people [mess] up the bad guys," the old man said. "If I see the bad guys, I'll catch them myself. I'm old, but I can catch them."

Several other people also provided information, warning the Marines that insurgents wearing explosives-packed vests or dressed in women's burkas planned suicide attacks.

"Don't leave us alone," said one applicant, Habib Rahman, a farmer with a crimson-dyed beard. "If you leave, the bad guys will come right back."

Yar Mohammed, 80, who hobbled into the payment hut using a cane, described a damaged wall, gate, doors and steel roof beams. Told that he would be given a yellow slip good for $2,375, Mohammed shook his head and said, "This is not enough."

Blake, a mortarman, explained that the payments for repairs were based on estimates from local contractors fed into an Excel program.

"OK," Mohammed said, shrugging. "You decide."

He happily provided his fingerprints and posed for a registration photo.

The next day, the compensation system got more complicated. Alpha Company's payment center was moving six miles north, to be consolidated with other units. Any Afghan with a yellow slip would have to make the trek there.

From a smaller compound nearby, Miller and his platoon rose at 4 a.m. to patrol in the coolest part of the day. They slogged through fields, crunching dried poppy pods under their boots and brushing past lush marijuana plants taller than any Marine.

"What are you guys doing here?" a shepherd named Noradeen yelled at the troops as they stumbled across his flock in the rosy light of dawn.

"Assessing damage!" Miller called back, through an interpreter.

Noradeen accepted Miller's offer to tour his compound, where the shepherd pointed out damage to doors and walls. He said he had fled with his sheep after the Taliban took over the compound.

"Oh yeah -- that's true," Miller said, giving Noradeen a yellow slip.

We spent a week right next to this place. We had to blow it up to get the Taliban out of here."

At the next compound, Abdul Rakani, a bony man with one good eye, complained that the fighting had reduced his opium profits from $10,000 to about $3,000 because he could not harvest all of his poppy crop.

Rakani pointed out damaged windows and doors. Miller gave him a yellow slip but declined to pay for other damage, which the lieutenant said was caused by insurgents who had commandeered the compound.

Down a dirt path, the patrol encountered three young men with wild black beards and the dark turbans favored by Talibs. From a distance, Miller ordered them to roll up their sleeves and raise their robes to prove they were not hiding explosives. They complied.

The men told Miller they were farmers returning from a night's work in their fields. They were afraid to work during the day, they said.

"We're afraid the Marines will kill us," one man said.

Civilian casualties, especially those caused by airstrikes, have enraged Afghans. But in a month of fighting here, the Marines said, only two civilian death claims were filed.

At midmorning, the patrol returned to its mud compound, the Marines' vests drenched with sweat. There would be dozens more patrols before they left Garmser.

U.S. and NATO commanders are discussing which forces -- U.S., NATO, Afghan or some combination -- should replace the Marines, said Col. Peter Petronzio, commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

"It's important that they come in and capitalize on our success," Petronzio said. "It'll take a bit of time. You need to eat this elephant one bite at a time."

For Miller, sunburned and exhausted after another three-hour patrol, the hard work his men had put in this spring and summer was too precious to be wasted. He knew the insurgents were eager to return to their former stronghold.

"The key for us is: It can never go back to the way it was," he said.

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July 4, 2008

Former Inland resident laid to rest at Riverside National Cemetery in Fourth of July ceremony

On a holiday dominated by red, white and blue, Debbie Nuchols was dressed in black so she could bury her son.


Slideshow: Memorial for slain serviceman Dustin K. Burnett
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Friday, July 4, 2008
The Press-Enterprise

Hospitalman Dustin K. Burnett, 19, was killed June 20 when a roadside bomb hit his vehicle in Farah Province in Afghanistan. From childhood, family remembered, he was a devout believer in the military and the need to preserve freedom.

He was buried Friday at Riverside National Cemetery with military honors.

Hospitalman Burnett was born at Parkview Community Hospital and lived in Riverside until his family moved to Bullhead City, Ariz., in 2002.

Nuchols said her son's death doesn't depreciate the significance Independence Day.

"It will gain meaning," Nuchols said.

Hospitalman Burnett's burial teemed with memories and lessons. There was the plaque given to his younger brother Devin and the playing of taps.

Rear Adm. Donald Gintzig told mourners that that servicemen and women deployed around the world are volunteers who "stand up and go forward and protect freedom around the world."

Nuchols said it is a message her son's life demonstrates, and what she believes July Fourth is about.

"My son wanted to go over there and fight to make sure we keep (freedom) here and spread (freedom) to other people," she said.

Nuchols said she recognizes Americans are split on their impressions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but those who serve in the military deserve support.

"War is not pretty and war is not a black and white issue," she said.

Photographer William Lewis contributed to this report

24th MEU tour extended a month

Mother of Lejeune corporal is disappointed by the news

As word spread throughout the community and country that the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's stay in Afghanistan will be extended, families of those deployed dealt with the heartache of not seeing their loved ones as soon as they'd hoped.


July 4, 2008 - 12:49AM

Mary Arbuckle, whose son is stationed with the Camp Lejeune-based unit, tried to hold back tears as she described reading about the extension on the Web site of another Marine parent.

"It's hard for me to handle this," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Somis, Calif., "I'm in shock."

Arbuckle said it's hard to handle the disappointment of not seeing her son, but she understands how things often change in the service.

"I respect the Marine Corps," she said. "But you still miss your family so much."

Maj. Dave Nevers, a Marine Corps spokesman, issued a statement regarding the extension.

"The 24th MEU will continue conducting full-spectrum operations in Afghanistan for an additional month at the request of the International Security Assistance Force, and with the approval of Secretary Gates," he said.

Arbuckle said she hasn't heard from her son, Lance Cpl. Eric Arbuckle, who is assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, in about two weeks. She said getting the news Thursday through the military grapevine, with no official word, was concerning.

"I don't know why they can't get reserves to go out there or other units that have not gone," she said.

Nevers said there is a reason why these Marines in particular will be deployed longer than expected.

"This will afford the MEU the opportunity to continue building on the tremendous success they have achieved during its tour there," he said. "The Marines are now scheduled to return home in early to mid-November."

Arbuckle expected her son home in October or sooner. Now, she is trying to make sense of all of this new information.

"I don't know what the implications are," she said. "I hope they are home for Thanksgiving."

July 3, 2008

15th MEU goes hot in Kuwait

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — The Marines and sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, two months into a scheduled deployment, began sustainment training in the Middle Eastern nation of Kuwait recently with the aim of staying sharp as the Marine Corps’ tip of the spear.


7/3/2008 By Lance Cpl. Timothy T. Parish, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The heat and arid climate found in Kuwait offers the Marines and sailors of the 15th MEU a place to train for possible future operations in an environment not found in the United States, according to Maj. Thomas G. Citrano, assistant operations officer, 15th MEU.

“We train as we fight. We don’t do anything in training that we wouldn’t be prepared to do in combat,” Citrano said. “Everything were doing out here training in Kuwait can be duplicated in combat.”

The sustainment ashore includes live-fire small arms ranges, battery live-fires and flight operations. Each major subordinate element of the 15th MEU, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Combat Logistics Battalion 15 and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-165 (REIN), is taking part in every aspect of the training, according to Citrano, a native of Jacksonville, Fla.

“We were on ship for the better part of forty days and we hadn’t been able to get out on ground, so this is our first chance to get the entire (Marine Air Ground Task Force) off the ship to train together as a MAGTF,” said Citrano.

Aboard USS Peleliu (LHA 5), USS Dubuque (LPD 8) and USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), the Marines and sailors of the 15th MEU have limited opportunities to conduct full-scale combat training. The expanse of open desert and military training ranges around Camp Buehring give the Marines and sailors of the 15th MEU ample opportunity to enhance their combat readiness, according to Citrano.

“We do sustainment firing on ship to try and stay proficient, but in the end of the day it is about Marines on the ground training with their squads—the artillery-men need to be out there firing, the pilots need to be able to go and drop ordnance and fire their rockets,” said Citrano.

With blistering heat and blowing sand, the austerity of the Kuwaiti desert test the physical readiness of any Marine to conduct real-world operations, according to Maj. Aaron D. Eckerberg, 15th MEU air officer.

Furthermore, the desert environment of Kuwait provides the Marines and sailors of the 15th MEU a glimpse of what real-world operations in similar environments, like Iraq and Afghanistan, look like according to Eckerberg.

“Being in Kuwait is a real good simulation of a lot of environments we could see,” said Eckerberg. “As far as (BLT 2/5) going out in an austere environment, this is the same type of stuff they would see anywhere we would go.”

“I think we do a real good job at practicing like we play. We train just like we fight. Other than real bullets flying both ways, we simulate exactly how it is going to work,” said Eckerberg, a native of Kansas City, Missouri.

The Camp Pendleton-, Calif., based 15th MEU will be conducting sustainment training in Kuwait until mid-July.

Pentagon extends tour of Marines in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon has extended the tour of 2,200 Marines in Afghanistan, after insisting for months the unit would come home on time.


Published: July 3, 2008
Filed at 5:23 p.m. ET

The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is doing combat operations in the volatile south, will stay an extra 30 days and come home in early November rather than October, Marine Col. David Lapan confirmed Thursday.

Military leaders as recently as Wednesday stressed the need for additional troops in Afghanistan. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has often praised the work of the 24th MEU in fighting Taliban militants in Helmand Province.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, has repeatedly said he did not intend to extend or replace the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, calling their deployment there an extraordinary, one-time effort to help tamp down the increasing violence in the south.

Asked about the possibility of an extension in early May, Gates said he would ''be loathe to do that.'' He added that ''no one has suggested even the possibility of extending that rotation.''

Lapan said Thursday that commanders in Afghanistan asked that the Marines stay longer.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the longer tour does not open the door to an extension beyond the 30 days, nor to the possibility of replacing them with other U.S. troops when they come out in November. ''This is a slight addition to this tour and nothing more,'' he said.

He added that commanders in Afghanistan ''asked for 30 more days to milk the fighting season to the bitter end and cement the gains they have made in the south.''

The Pentagon announced in January that the Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was being ordered to Afghanistan, largely because efforts to press other NATO nations to increase their troop levels at the time had failed.

At the same time, about 1,000 members of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, which is based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., was ordered to deploy also. That unit has been used to train Afghan security forces. As a result of the MEU's extended deployment, Marines from both units are now expected to return home at about the same time.

Commanders faced with increasing violence have said they need at least 7,500 more troops in Afghanistan. And President Bush and defense officials have said they hope to identify additional units by the end of the year that could go to Afghanistan early next year.

The Pentagon has said that more U.S. forces cannot be sent to the Afghan fight until decisions are made to further reduce troop levels in Iraq. In the last two months, violence in Afghanistan has led to more U.S. and coalition casualties there than in Iraq, and June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war began.

''The Taliban and their supporters have, without question, grown more effective and more aggressive in recent weeks ... as the casualty figures clearly demonstrate,'' Mullen told a Pentagon press conference Wednesday.

The heavy fighting has claimed the lives of a dozen members of the MEU. One other Marine's death was not related to combat.

''It's a very complex problem, and it's tied to the drug trade, a faltering economy and, as I've said many times, the porous border region with Pakistan,'' said Mullen. ''There's no easy solution, and there will be no quick fix.''

There are 32,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, including 14,000 serving with the NATO-led coalition and another 18,000 conducting training and counterinsurgency.

The NATO force includes more than 52,000 troops from as many as 40 countries.

U.S. Grants NATO Request to Extend Marine Unit’s Afghanistan Tour

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has approved a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force request that the 2,200 Marines of 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit remain in Afghanistan a month longer than planned.


By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Dave Nevers said the Marines “have been doing an effective job” in Regional Command South.

NATO officials said the ISAF commander, Army Gen. David McKiernan, requested the one-month extension.

“The extension will allow these Marines to reinforce the success they have had on the ground,” a Defense Department official speaking on background said.

The unit is part of a one-time deployment to Afghanistan that began in March. The original orders called for the Marines to be back at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in October. The extension will move their return into November. Families began receiving notification of the extension yesterday.

There are still no plans to replace the Marines once their tour in the volatile area is complete. A total of 12 Marines have been killed fighting the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies since the deployment began.

Challenge coins pass on heritage, history of Marine Corps

CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan — Challenge coins are minted military coins embossed with a unit's insignia and commander's billet and are often given to service members by commanders to boost morale and honor service.


7/3/2008 By Lance Cpl. Joseph A. Cabrera, III Marine Expeditionary Force

During a two-day visit to Okinawa by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlton W. Kent, several Marines from various units received challenge coins in recognition of outstanding work performance.

"It is a great sign of accomplishment," said Lance Cpl. Leenard Benologa, a supply administration clerk with Combat Logistics Regiment 35.

Benologa, like many others, received a challenge coin from the commandant.

"I think it's a huge honor," said Cpl. Jill Allred, a Marine Corps integrated maintenance management system specialist with CLR 35. "It's pretty cool to get the highest one."

The origin of the tradition cannot be traced to a specific time and place. There are several stories about how the tradition of challenge coins came into existence, some dating back to World War I.

In one story, according to a 2005 article "History of the Challenge Coin," written by Cpl. Wil Acosta and published on Marine Corps News, during World War I, members of one American flying squadron received unit medallions embossed with the unit's insignia from their commander. One of the unit's pilots kept the medallion in a leather pouch worn around his neck.

While flying a mission, his plane was shot down by German forces, and he was captured. To discourage the pilot from tying to escape, the Germans took the pilot's identification.

While en route to a prisoner of war camp, the pilot did manage to escape. He dressed in civilian attire to evade capture by the Germans.

The pilot was later found by French troops who had recently been advised to watch for German soldiers dressed in civilian attire. Unable to prove his identity, the pilot faced certain death. His life was spared, however, when the insignia on the unit medallion was recognized as an American flying squadron.

Instead of executing the American pilot, they gave him a bottle of wine. After hearing of the pilot's story, service members began carrying the medallion, and when challenged, any member not in possession of the medallion would have to buy the challenger a drink.

In another story, according to http://www.globalsecurity.org, the tradition of challenge coins may have originated during the Vietnam War. Service members with free time would indulge in a variety of activities, to include drinking at bars.

They formed what was called bullet clubs. Service members on the front lines often carried a separate bullet to use on themselves to avoid being captured by the enemy.

While in the bar, the service members would often challenge each other to see who was carrying that extra round of ammunition.

Anyone who could not produce the round bought drinks the rest of the night. If the challenged person was able to produce the round then his bar tab would be covered by the challenger.

Service members began bringing larger caliber rounds to the bars as a sign of machismo, even cannon and artillery munitions. To avoid the accidental discharge of the ordnance, bullets were replaced with coins bearing the units insignia.

Today, the tradition of using the coins to challenge one another is familiar to many Marines, yet is not commonly witnessed.

For Capt. Edward McDonough, the commanding officer of Headquarters Battery, 3rd Bn., 12th Marines, the coins hold a different value - sentimental. His collection is a reminder of former units and friends.

"It is so you can remember the Marines to your right and left, and the guys you served with," he said.

Marine moms, dads, often drop out of boot camp

WASHINGTON - Franklin Smith had a wife and an infant son when he convinced a recruiter in Biloxi, Miss., that he wanted to be a Marine.


By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 3, 2:01 PM ET

For the recruiter, bringing in a family man like Smith was a dropout risk — even greater than recruiting someone with a criminal record, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.

In these days of long and repeated warfront tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 10 percent of the male recruits who are married with one or more children, or are financially responsible for a dependent, don't even finish Marine boot camp, according to the Center for Naval Analysis. For women in similar circumstances, the dropout rate jumps to three in 10.

Three-year trends show that recruits who have family responsibilities or did not earn formal high school diplomas are most likely to wash out before they finish initial training. Those recruits also fail more often to complete their first terms of enlistment.

The numbers offer a new slant on recent debates over the Pentagon's acceptance of recruits who have criminal convictions. They suggest that the long slog of war, the Marines' frequent seven-month tours fighting insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, also take a toll on recruits with families.

Smith beat those odds. And during a tour in Iraq last November, he re-enlisted for another four years. But that doesn't mean it was easy.

When Smith, now 28, headed to boot camp four years ago, his son Kristian was just a month old.

"It felt a little lonely because you're not at home," he said in an interview with AP. "There's a lot that happens if you're not physically there that you can't get back. ... When he first started to walk, his first smile. I missed all those things."

Smith remembers driving by a recruiting office and deciding to stop after he'd had a bad day at work as a substitute teacher. Members of his wife Natasha's family had been in the military, so she and Franklin knew what they were getting into.

Still, Smith needed a special waiver from the Marines to enter the Corps because he had a family. Marine leaders know that the dropout percentages for such troops are high, but since they represent a fairly small number of recruits overall, commanders often are willing to take the risk.

"I'm not going to argue the statistics, that these folks have a higher attrition rate, but I think we have enough checks and balances," said Col. Rodman Sansone, the assistant chief of staff for Marine Corps Recruiting Command. "The numbers are small, and we're comfortable with what we're doing."

Under the regulations:

• Single parents cannot join the Marines. Recruits who are married with one or more children require a waiver to get in, as do recruits who are unwed parents and pay child support.

• Recruits who have three or more dependents — which could be a spouse and two children — cannot join the active duty Marine Corps, but, with a waiver, can join the reserves.

Sansone said the majority of Marines who come in with waivers for dependents are married with one child. The second most common circumstance is unmarried recruits paying child support.

A key concern, he said, is whether the recruits can meet their bills on a military paycheck, and whether they can deal with the frequent deployments to warfronts where family members cannot join them.

For Smith, who plays the trombone and became a member of the Marine Corps Base Quantico Band, preparing his family for his absence was stressful, a top priority when he deployed to Iraq last year. While there he did security details in the volatile Diyala province and guarded convoy operations. He then went to Ramadi in western Iraq before heading home in March.

Despite the hardships, he said his decision to join was a good choice.

"I never thought it was a mistake. ... I never looked back," Smith said. "In order to succeed and go somewhere, you have to make a choice. And you don't look back at the choice you make, you look ahead and make the best of the choice you made."

During the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, about 1,400 recruits came in with waivers for dependents, and roughly 1,600 came in with waivers because they did not have high school diplomas. Under Marine Corps regulations only 5 percent of all recruits per year may be admitted with education waivers — which means they either did not finish high school at all or received a GED, an alternative diploma.

Those 5 percent are a particularly high risk of leaving early.

Nearly half of all Marine recruits who joined between 1992-2003 and did not have a high school diploma never finished their first term of enlistment — usually a four- to six-year contract.

Finishing the initial training is also a challenge. During fiscal years 2003-2005, more than 26 percent of men and almost 17 percent of women recruits without diplomas never finished boot camp.

"We do know that the determining factor of success for a Marine at boot camp and first term is absolutely education," Sansone said. But ruling out that 5 percent without diplomas, he said, "would be a disservice to those who do stick it out."

Waivers have been a troublesome issue for the military, particularly in the wake of recent revelations that the services brought in significantly more recruits with felony convictions last year than in previous years. A few involved manslaughter and sex crimes — most often involving consensual relations involving underaged youth.

The number of Marine recruits with felony records rose from 208 in 2006 to 350 in 2007.

An analysis done by the Center for Naval Analyses, however, showed that Marine recruits who require waivers to get in often receive more merit promotions. But recruits without waivers are almost always more likely to finish boot camp than those with waivers.

Some of the results mirror those for Army soldiers. A recent review of waiver data for the Army showed that soldiers who get waivers because of bad behavior go AWOL more often and face more courts-martial. But they also get promoted faster and re-enlist at a higher rate.

Women make up just 6 percent of the Marine Corps, compared with more than 15 percent of the Army.

Comparable data for Army waivers for recruits with dependents was not immediately available.

According to the data for Marine recruits between 2003-2005:

• 9 percent of men and 18.1 percent of women without waivers failed to finish boot camp.

• 9.9 percent of men and 16.7 percent of women with felony convictions failed to finish.

• 10.3 percent of men and 21.5 percent of women with drug use waivers failed.

• 14.8 percent of men and 28.9 percent of women with waivers for having dependents failed to finish.

• 16.9 percent of men and 26.4 percent of women without high school diplomas failed to finish boot camp.

Roughly 20 percent of the women who joined the Marines from 2003-2005 failed to finish boot camp, double the rate for men.

July 2, 2008

Immigrant Killed in Afghanistan Granted Posthumous Citizenship

Dawid Pietrek, a Polish immigrant, couldn't vote, run for public office or obtain a U.S. passport. But he signed up to serve a country that wasn't yet his, and last month he gave his life for that country.


By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 2, 2008; Page B03

Pfc. Pietrek, 24, of Bensenville, Ill., was one of four Marines killed by a roadside bomb June 14 in Afghanistan's Farah province. Yesterday, more than 90 mourners gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to celebrate Pietrek's life and honor his sacrifice. He was the 489th member of the military killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to be buried at Arlington.

Pietrek's grave was surrounded by a half-dozen wreaths and floral arrangements and a pair of flags, one American and the other a Marine Corps flag. Mourners dressed in dark suits and dresses stood in contrast to Marines in crisp white hats lined up at the rear of the group.

In an e-mail to family, friends and the Daily Herald of Illinois, Pietrek's mother, Dorota, asked that her son's sacrifice be remembered.

"Thank you for keeping him in your hearts and your minds," she wrote in Polish, according to the Daily Herald.

Pietrek came to the United States three years ago on a green card, hoping to attend college and become a police officer, according to the Herald. He lived with two families in Elmhurst, outside of Chicago, as a trained medical caregiver for elderly family members.

Marine Sgt. Dmitry Novak said the Marines, along with other agencies and groups, helped Pietrek's family arrange travel and burial plans.

Novak sent an e-mail to a Polish announcement list imploring members of the community to attend the burial. "It would mean more to the family than can ever be expressed in words," he wrote. Seven of Pietrek's family members traveled to the United States for the burial, six from Poland and one from Iceland.

"They were very, very moved," Novak said after the service. "They were very thankful that so many people actually cared and came out to show their respect and support. It was important for us to show that level of respect to the family and make sure they remember this forever."

Pietrek's mother wanted two things, Novak said. She wanted him to be buried at Arlington and be granted citizenship. Shortly before the funeral service began, the latter came true, as an official from the Department of Homeland Security presented her with her son's certificate of posthumous citizenship.

Pietrek joined the Marine Corps in June 2007, enlisting in Bensenville. This was the rifleman's first deployment, said 1st Lt. Curtis Williamson, spokesman for the 1st Marine Division. In just over a year, Pietrek had received numerous awards, including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

Also killed with Pietrek were Sgt. Michael Toussiant-Hyle Washington, 20, of Tacoma, Wash.; Lance Cpl. Layton Bradly Crass, 22, of Richmond, Ind.; and Pfc. Michael Robert Patton, 19, of Fenton, Mo. The four Marines were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Twentynine Palms, Calif.

In a note sent to his mother and sister in Police, Poland, after arriving in Afghanistan, Pietrek talked about what he was accomplishing.

"We are helping and protecting these people and providing them with schooling and medicine," he said in the note, excerpts of which were printed in the Herald. "If something should happen to me remember -- this was my decision. We're defending people here and fighting terrorists."


Special Ringtones, Video, and Graphics Tailored to

All Branches of U.S. Military Personnel

DALLAS, JULY 2, 2008 — We honor freedom in our yards and in our homes, on our cars and even in our wardrobe, and now AT&T; is providing customers with a unique way to give tribute to those who have fought for our independence, just in time for the 4th of July holiday. AT&T; Inc. (NYSE:T) today announced a program with 2ThumbZ Entertainment, Inc. to launch the wireless industry’s first comprehensive portfolio of mobile content tailored to the United States Military. The impressive selection of content consists of ringtones, Answer Tones™, 3D graphics and animations, and videos tailored to members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.


AT&T; customers, including Armed Services personnel and their family members can now show their patriotic spirit and support with elite military division insignia featuring exclusive designs from 2ThumbZ. AT&T; is providing a text message shortcode to allow fast access to the content portfolio. AT&T; customers can text USA to 386 and receive a link to view the entire collection of more than 300 military-themed products. The collection will also include special photos that highlight the skill and precision of the military’s premier air demonstration squadron, the USAF Thunderbirds. A portion of each Thunderbird photo sale will be contributed by 2ThumbZ

to military charities supporting active duty personnel and veterans of all service branches.

“We are proud to offer exclusive content through our partnership with 2ThumbZ that conveys the honor, strength and spirit of these elite military units,” said Mark Collins, vice president of consumer products for AT&T;’s wireless unit.

“This is the very first wireless military portfolio that includes divisional insignia for many top units including the 82nd Airborne division, 1st Infantry division, Marine 2nd division, Army Rangers and the USAF Thunderbirds,” said Mark Baric, chairman, 2ThumbZ. “We are truly privileged to work closely with all branches of the U.S. Armed Services and AT&T; to build this portfolio that salutes America’s bravest.”

“The publication of the US Military content by AT&T; allows their customers to express support of U.S. troops”, stated, Gen. H. Hugh Shelton, USA (Ret.) 14th Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Downloading this content sends a clear expression of gratitude and support for our soldiers across all military branches, which will resonate not only with them, but with their family and friends as well.”

For more information on the “America and USA Military” AT&T; portfolio, text USA to 386 from any AT&T; wireless device or visit www.att.com/mediamall

July 1, 2008

Fire destroys post, Marines persevere

FALLUJAH, Iraq (July 1, 2008) – Marines with Company L, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat team 1 and Iraqi firemen with the Fallujah Fire Department teamed up to battle a fire that destroyed structures at Entry Control Point-5 (ECP-5) June 25.


7/1/2008 By Cpl. Chris Lyttle, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines

The ECP controls traffic and safeguards entryways into the city of Fallujah.

No one was injured and the cause of the fire is under investigation, but it is suspected to have started from a faulty light fixture, said 1st Lt. Travis Bowden, the company’s executive officer, who was on duty as the watch officer when a Marine alerted him that one of the wooden structures at the ECP was engulfed in flames.

“I contacted the battalion and they called the Fallujah Fire Department,” Bowden said. “They got on deck and started using their water trucks and everything they had.”

Marines said although the Iraqi firemen responded incredibly fast, nearly seven huts were already burning when they arrived. The first firemen to arrive fought the blaze with water cannons until they ran empty and Marines used every extinguisher available on post.

“The (Iraqi firemen) had maybe three or four trucks doing runs for about two hours trying to get all the water they had on the fire,” Bowden said. “Both Marines and the firefighters were on the hoses trying to get the flames down. Once that first hut went up (in flames), it was too much for any number of fire extinguishers to handle,” Bowden said.

Gunnery Sgt. Jason Armistead, Company L gunnery sergeant, described how quickly the fire took over every structure while he and others attempted to fight it.

“We got about twenty fire extinguishers and (the fire) just kept spreading too fast,” Armistead said. “So then we grabbed some axes. About seven or eight of us were trying to chop down the side of a hooch (wooden hut) trying to keep it away from the other ones. The fire kept jumping from hooch to hooch and it was starting to go around us.”

At that point, Armistead told the Marines to get all of their personal gear from each hut that they could salvage, but because of the fire’s rapid growth, few items were saved.

Lance Cpl. Kyle Van Beekom, a heavy equipment operator with Combat Engineers Battalion, attached to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, without regard for his own safety, drove a forklift to the fire, and removed gasoline-fueled generators, a 200-gallon gas tank and moved the wooden buildings away from the flames to prevent it from spreading.

“The hooch we were trying to take an axe to; he (Beekom) rammed it about four or five times,” Armistead said. “He drove the (forklift) completely into the fire, trying to keep it pushed back and he kept the fire from jumping. Of course all of the hooches burned down, but that enabled us to get more gear out.”

More than 90 Marines lost everything they owned, including personal possessions and issued equipment. The company immediately adjusted to logistical setbacks, living arrangements and daily operations continued seamlessly, Bowden said.

Although the fire created a setback for the Marines, there was a silver lining- the generosity from Iraqis and stateside supporters.

Bowden said in this case, the assistance role was reversed. After the fire, Iraqis helped clear the debris with dump trucks and others came to offer building materials. A nearby ice factory owner delivered ice and food to the Marines.

“It’s definitely different,” Bowden said. “It just shows a lot of progress we’ve made in helping them out so much that they’re willing to reciprocate that now. They’re lending us a hand when we’re down and out so that we can recover.”

Bowden added that stateside supporters have been in constant contact with the battalion, inquiring how to help the Marines.

“Stateside (support) has been extraordinary,” Bowden said. “I don’t know how many emails and letters we’ve received. It’s just an outpouring of everyone trying to give a little bit. It has been overwhelming.”

Armistead described how the company is adjusting in the aftermath.

“Collectively, we all know it’s a bad situation, but no one’s complaining,” Armistead said. “We’re just doing what we need to do to continue on with the mission. We’re just accepting the fact that we’ve got to live on. The battalion is doing a good job of getting the military gear back that we lost. The response from the other units around us and the people back home has just been unreal. They gave us necessities so we could get by.”

Bowden added that the Marines are enduring the loss and looking ahead.

“It has been tough on the Marines, but at the same time, it’s showing us how to be flexible,” Bowden said. “The good thing is that we were able keep up with operations we already had in place. We still accomplished everything that was planned before and we’re still right on track and moving forward. I just think the Marines did really well by being flexible and adaptable. They’re taking the situation, as bad as it is, and continuing on with (Iraq’s reconstruction) effort.”

Wounded Warrior job fair offers opportunities

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jul 1, 2008 6:35:03 EDT

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Cpl. Mark Marcoux set his sights on college long before he was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

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